EDITORIAL: UTRGV programs will incorporate local history into curricula

Even young students often voice a pride in their culture, their home and their neighborhoods. And yet educators have long complained that it’s hard to interest students in many of humanities and social studies courses that are required for high school graduation.

Two grant-funded initiatives at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s Center for Mexican American Studies aim to give local students a more personalized history curriculum that could raise their interest, and their achievement.

Both programs seek to incorporate local history into their learning plans.

Dr., J. Joy Esquierdo, director of the UTRGV Center for Bilingual Studies, and Dr. Stephanie Alavarez, director of the Center for Mexican American Studies, received just under $100,000 from the National endowment for the Humanities to fund a two-year project, “Social Studies through Authentic and Relevant Content: Promoting Humanities Learning in Elementary Schools.”

The project will focus on social studies lessons geared for elementary school children, working with the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo and Harlingen public school districts.

The second project carries a wider reach. Dr. Francisco Guajardo, executive director of the B3 Institute, and Dr. Maritza De La Trinidad, undergraduate coordinator of the Mexican AmericanStudies program, received more than $2 million from the American History andCivics Education-National

Activities Grants, under the U.S. Department of Education.

This K-12 project will work with the Brownsville and Edinburg public school districts to give district instructors teaching materials, summer professional development and other resources to “enhance current and historical understandings of local and national citizenship,” according to a UTRGV news release.

Both projects seem perfect for an area that has such a rich history as the Rio Grande Valley.

While the projects are just getting started and lesson plans haven’t been created, we can speculate that they could address subjective interpretations of historic facts. For example, they could compare the treatment of a single event on either side of the border, such as the Juan Cortina raids. Was he an outlaw, as depicted in U.S. accounts, or a defender of the people and their property, as told south of the border?

Local events, perhaps including actions by ancestors of some students, could color traditional history of the U.S.Mexican or Civil War. Sessions about the civil rights movement could include talks about the Chicano Marches in the Valley, or initial reactions to the Queen Isabella Causeway partial collapse might help students understand the atmosphere that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that occurred just a few days earlier.

A famous truism is that those who don’t remember history are doomed to repeat it. Innovative programs such as these can help make history more relevant to the students, and thus more memorable.