Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/1210chavezlearning.html

Schools to test Chavez curriculum
The Arizona Republic
Dec. 10, 2003
Yvonne Wingett
Pilot program focuses on labor activist

The legacy of the labor leader who gave farmworkers a voice and a union could live on through a special educational curriculum that some want to bring to Arizona.

To some, Cesar Chavez is revered as a modern-day saint. To critics, he was merely a rabble-rouser. Still, the history of migrant workers and Hispanic-Americans cannot be written without him.

State lawmakers, municipal officials and school administrators will meet today in Phoenix to discuss plans to start the Cesar Chavez Service Learning Program in five to seven schools.

The pilot program will start this month.

Depending on its success, the curriculum, which would teach students the importance of community involvement, values and leadership, could be implemented into many more schools by next fall.

The California-based Cesar E. Chavez Foundation selected Arizona for this program because of Chavez's deep history with the state, the place where he lived and died, representatives said.

Tolleson parent Tia Barnum wants her son to learn about Chavez but doesn't want administrators to go "overboard on it," she said.

"He was pretty important," said Barnum, 28, whose son is in first grade. She said schools should dedicate at least a week to learning about Chavez "kind of like they do for Martin Luther King."

Students will spend part of the semester studying farm working conditions, heroism and homelessness while working in the community and meeting its needs, educators said.

For example, students could learn about health risks associated with migrant farm work while organizing a health fair.

Or students could focus on homelessness by writing letters to businesses asking for help for a clothing drive.

At the same time, organizers said, they would read about Chavez's life and the values he lived by: giving service to others, helping those most needy and respect for life.

"The figure of Cesar Chavez is not very present (in K-12 curriculum)," said Dr. Gustavo Fishman, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction at Arizona State University's College of Education.

Typically, Fishman said, Chavez's galvanization of a union and the conflicts within the union "are not really addressed in any depth" in schools.

The Chavez curriculum is being implemented on a national scale from Colorado to Florida.

In September, the Los Angeles Unified School District launched the program in its schools.

It's too soon to gauge the effectiveness of the Los Angeles program, but students are "becoming interested in school, seeing value to what they're actually learning and how they're applying it to real-life situations," said Ruben Zepeda, a curriculum adviser for the district.

Locally, Pappas Elementary School and schools in the Tolleson, Fowler, Littleton, Pendergast and Union elementary school districts will start the program.

Phoenix officials have identified three high schools, Central, North and Cesar E. Chavez, as possible demonstration site models for the program.

The city also could decide to roll it into its after-school programs, officials said.

"I'm excited because obviously Cesar Chavez had a great deal of influence with the agriculture and migrant (issues) in the area," said Tolleson Union High School District Superintendent Kino Flores.

"It will be a curriculum strand that focuses on everything from the essence of migrant and agriculture work, the history of it (and) what (Chavez) was all about, " he said.

The program initially will cost the schools nothing, Maricopa County Superintendent of Schools Ben Arrendondo said.