Trainer Creates Social Justice Curriculum For College students With Particular Wants

SAN DIEGO – After George Floyd died in police custody in Minneapolis last summer, special education educator Francia Pinillos felt an urge to speak to her students about race and social justice.

“It has been a complete disturbance in my soul how this image will live in all sorts of media,” she said recently, “and my students will see this with no clear ways to dissect and talk about what is happening.” ”

Pinillos has worked for TRACE for the past seven years, an integrated school in San Diego that serves approximately 500 disabled students aged 18-22.

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The school, which meets in community locations across the district, helps students with disabilities transition from high school to adulthood. Pinillos’ students face challenges that range from autism and learning disabilities to intellectual disabilities and deafness.

When she looked for a curriculum that addressed social justice issues, she found a lot – but none that was written specifically for students with disabilities.

This is in part why she founded what is known as the Social Justice League, a group of students at her school who meet weekly at Zoom and discuss a variety of topics such as Native American land, gender privileges, and representation of disabilities in the media and systemic racism.

So far, the group of around 30 students has performed their own poems at a church reading and practiced what to do when they are stopped by a police officer. That is, they raise their hands and say, “I have a disability.”

All of the students in Pinillos’ class are minorities, not only because they are disabled, but also because most of the students are of color. Most of Pinillos’ students are of Spanish, Black, or Filipino descent.

However, students with disabilities, whom Pinillos describes as a “forgotten minority,” are not always involved in social justice conversations, she said.

“The problem is that they cannot express that they are also part of these social justice problems,” said Pinillos. “There are black disabled students; There are poor disabled students. They just have one extra barrier due to a disability which I think is being overlooked. “

Some Social Justice League students said they joined the group because they wanted to learn more about people of color and things like Black History Month. Some said they had had racist experiences themselves, including being cursed at by a stranger in a store or being referred to as a “damn African American”.

“Other people in general are scared of me because I’m a tall black man,” said Nate Douglas, a TRACE sophomore in the Social Justice League who is 6-foot-3. “But then they realize that I am a cool and kind person.”

When searching for a curriculum on TRACE for the Social Justice League, Pinillos said she could only find current events-style articles on events like the Capitol Riot that were adapted for special education.

She created two digital workbooks, one introducing ethnology and one based on the film and bestseller “The Hate U Give,” which is about a black girl who witnessed a friend’s fatal shooting from childhood by the police. In Pinillos’ workbook, students are asked to discuss the difference between the Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter movements and to ask what stages of grief the main character shows.

One reason Pinillos started teaching was to help her students identify when they are encountering microaggression or other forms of discrimination.

For example, Pinillos said, the class recently discussed efforts to stop hatred against Asians and Asian Americans. One way to politely correct any misinformation is to tell others that the coronavirus is not referred to as the “China virus”.

“I have to be the path for my students to have access to this type of social work,” Pinillos said. “If they are not aware or if they do not have the full meaning, they will not know how to act. If something happens to them that is wrong, we must be the reason they can speak up. “

In the Social Justice League, Pinillos’ students learned how blacks were separated in the United States. Students said they were similarly upset because people with disabilities were separated from people without disabilities.

TRACE student and freshman Social Justice League member Alberto Castaneda, who has a learning disability, said when he was in elementary school he was placed in a separate class for children with disabilities and ran into trouble for trying to join the general class where his cousin was.

“I think it was kind of extra of them that set us these limits because we can function like any other student with or without learning disabilities,” said Castaneda.

Students with disabilities are often placed in separate classes or schools in order to receive instruction tailored to their needs. However, San Diego Unified and other districts state that they have worked in recent years to integrate students with disabilities into their peers rather than segregating them. The idea is to give all students access to quality teaching.

Social Justice League members want others to remember that people with disabilities can have fun and achieve their goals like anyone else.

“People with or without disabilities … we shouldn’t be separated or separated,” said Sami Habte, a first year TRACE student. “I did not ask for a handicap. I just want to live my life and live my story. “

Pinillos is working with other support staff at TRACE to expand their social justice class across the school and to add more groups and sessions with students over the next school year.

© 2021 The San Diego Union-Tribune
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