Hawaii to be first to offer Filipino History Culture course in public school curriculum

The idea didn't come from teachers but from a group of Filipino students who felt their stories deserved a place in the classroom.
Published: Oct. 29, 2023 at 10:36 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A first-of-its-kind social studies course is being offered in Hawaii high schools next fall.

CHR 2300 Filipino History Culture is making history of its own.

The idea didn’t come from teachers but from a group of Filipino students who felt their stories deserved a place in the classroom.

Waipahu and Farrington high Schools will be the first in the nation to offer a student created Filipino Studies class in a public school curriculum. Five high school students came up with the idea two years ago and started the Filipino Curriculum Project. One of them Raymart Billote now studies at UH and will teach the course at Waipahu.

“Filipino kids who were born here weren’t really learning about themselves in the classroom. So I saw that problem. And I just told myself that, hey I want to teach this,” said Raymart Billote, co-director of the Filipino Curriculum Project. “To really show the next generation of Filipino kids, students that their history is worth talking about.”

Filipinos make up a quarter of the student population in Hawaii’s public schools, the largest ethnic group.But even in schools where Filipinos are the majority, many youth feel disconnected from their culture.

“While I was growing up here, I have always noticed that children including me, weren’t always so proud of their Filipino heritage. I felt like I was embarrassed to be Filipino. I was embarrassed because of my skin, it was different. I was embarrassed about my Filipino accent, how it wasn’t so strong as other kids and their smooth English accent,” said Alexa Czeska Rivera, a freshman at Waipahu.

That shame now pride – thanks to a course that chronicles and validates the experiences of Filipinos in Hawaii and the diaspora.

It’ll focus on six units: Identity -- Philippine History -- Culture and Connections -- Filipinos in Hawaii and the U.S. -- Philippines in an Interconnected World -- and Community Engagement and Civic Action.

For some, the project strengthens intergenerational relationships, bringing together teenagers, teachers, policy makers, parents and grandparents.

“I was the bridge between my family and my culture, I was able to come back to family dinners and tell them about all the amazing things I was able to research about and share, things that they probably don’t know about their own culture,” said Jesselle Ann Morales, a Senior at Waipahu.

“The educator design team, specially who helped us design and really translate the idea of the students to the DOE language, so called, because we are not certified ourselves to really design the course, but they use what we had as a big foundation for the course,” Billote said.

”It’s like your dream as an educator to see your former students like create change in this way and stand up and use their voice to see themselves in the curriculum and how that’s going to ripple out for years to come is really incredible,” said Jeremiah Brown, English Learner Program Coordinator at Waipahu.

Students can register for the course now, and classes will begin next year. The DOE said it hopes to roll it out to more schools.

The project’s hope? To make learning Filipino American History part of every classroom so we won’t need a designated month to do so.

That would be one for the history books.

The curriculum is approved for all DOE schools. If you’d like to have it offered on your campus, visit filipinocurriculumproject.com.

For HNN’s series on Filipino American History, click here.