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Sunday, March 3, 2024
March 3, 2024

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Tri-Cities teen authors Washington bill to promote teaching more diversity and inclusion

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KENNEWICK — Not many high-schoolers can say they got the chance to write a bill in the Washington Legislature.

But Micah Fitzgerald can.

The Richland High School junior and her peers have drafted a piece of legislation that could help promote the adoption of curricula that is “diverse, equitable and inclusive” in Washington public schools.

Fitzgerald said she hopes students with diverse cultural and racial backgrounds will see themselves better represented in classroom lessons with this bill’s passage.

For Fitzgerald, who is Black, that also means including discussion about the countless Black entrepreneurs and pioneers who built America.

Her mom, Chauné Fitzgerald, is a business owner and the CEO of Women of Wisdom Tri-Cities. Her years of service to the community earned her the 2020 Columbia Basin College Martin Luther King Jr. Spirit Award.

Micah Fitzgerald is an entrepreneur in her own right, starting a small business called Miss Bri Cosmetics. She was also a contestant in the 2022 Miss Juneteenth Scholarship Pageant.

She said most high school education only keys in on three topics of the Black experience: Martin Luther King Jr., segregation and slavery.

“It’s really amazing to learn your people had so much involvement in our everyday lives that we might not even think of. Being an entrepreneur, it’s something inspiring and something I look up to,” she told the Herald.

Fitzgerald wrote Senate Bill 5441 in collaboration with other students on the Washington Legislative Youth Advisory Council (LYAC). She currently serves as a first-year member on the 22-student council.

State Sen. Claire Wilson, D-Auburn, sponsored the bill. She championed the students’ ambition in a statement, also mentioning another bill proposed by a student that would provide instruction on sex trafficking prevention and identification in schools.

“Our students are our future,” said Wilson, vice chair of the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee, in a statement. “They engage and they offer a perspective that we adults do not have. These students offered crucial insights into the needs of their classmates and I am proud to have worked with them to bring these bills to the Senate.”

Fitzgerald said she hopes their bill is passed by the Legislature and advances to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk for his signature.

Fitzgerald, who also attends Running Start college classes at Columbia Basin College, said she’s currently studying to be an anesthesiologist. But her stint with LYAC has helped her consider work as a lawmaker or lobbyist.

“It’s pretty exciting because I would have never seen myself in this position at all a year ago,” she said. “I’m really glad that I have this opportunity because I’m getting more involved in the Legislature and it might be one of my career options when I grow up.”

Committee testimony

LYAC is a nonpartisan, youth-led committee designated by state law to represent the voice of Washington’s youth. It’s inclusion in the Legislature highlights the impact Washington’s youngest and brightest minds can have on statewide policy.

SB 5441 was recently reviewed in the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee, where it received a public hearing. On Wednesday, it passed out of the committee and was sent to the Ways and Means Committee.

Fitzgerald testified in support of the bill at the Jan. 30 hearing alongside other LYAC council members, detailing her experiences of being the only Black girl in her classes.

“I felt isolated, excluded and disregarded, but it was also reaffirmed by my peers,” she told the committee. “When a person’s only experience and understanding of people of color comes from teachings on slavery, trials and tribulations, it internalizes a sense of othering in a place where you are supposed to learn and grow.”

The bill would also allow students to have a “deep understanding of the complexities” of their own communities, Fitzgerald added.

The bill has the backing of Washington Superintendent Chris Reykdal and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

If passed, SB 5441 would task regional educational service districts (ESDs) with creating a inclusive curricula coordinator role tasked with engaging with school districts to encourage the passage of inclusive curricula, as well as creating a regional youth advisory council.

These regional advisory councils — made up of one student from each school district within the ESD coming from a diverse background — would advise the work of the regional coordinators and school districts.

The group would also distribute an annual survey to students to assess the effectiveness of their curricula coordinators.

OSPI would also be tasked with creating an open educational resource database for developing the course work in Washington schools.

Public school instruction that includes the integrated study of diverse racial and cultural histories is shown to improve mental health, academic performance, attendance rates and graduation rates of marginalized communities, the bill states.

Literacy rates among Black elementary students have been shown to increase when reading culturally relevant stories, the bill also states.

“Children felt more motivated and interested when reading stories that reflected them,” the bill reads.

It also gives students a more diverse perspective of other people’s lives, Fitzgerald said.

She’s experienced racism at Richland schools, and said she “didn’t feel seen much in my education system growing up.”

She hopes this bill will help future generations of people of color to grow up learning more about their integrated role in history and culture.

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