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Cecilia Hill Brings Awareness of Mexican American History to Fort Worth Schools

Texas schools have an opportunity to embrace a culturally diverse history curriculum.

Illustration by Matthew Cook

Cecilia Hill Brings Awareness of Mexican American History to Fort Worth Schools

Texas schools have an opportunity to embrace a culturally diverse history curriculum.

In 2013, Cecilia Hill stood in front of a classroom packed with eighth graders. Then a first-year history teacher at Fort Worth’s McLean Middle School, she detailed the events surrounding the American Revolution — the tyrannical King George III, the Boston Tea Party, the Founding Fathers who met in secret to sign the Declaration of Independence.

A Latina student raised her hand: “Ms. Hill, were there any Mexicans that signed the Declaration of Independence?”

A boy in the class answered: “Nope.”

After teaching in Fort Worth for seven years, Hill is now a doctoral student in history at TCU. But part of her is still in that McLean classroom, which is one reason she is researching the ways in which Mexican and Mexican American experiences are presented in Texas schools.

A major component of Hill’s dissertation will focus on the origins of the social studies curriculum in the Fort Worth Independent School District.

“I am concentrating on how the curriculum, teachers and state-mandated standards reinforced schooling as a disciplinary mechanism,” Hill said, “to ensure loyalty to America and to uplift and enforce a white American identity.”

This examination of the forces that shaped and continue to play a role in creating the state’s academic standards is a culmination of Hill’s past research and experience within the public education system.

Fort Worth ISD

Growing up as a Latina and attending Fort Worth’s Paschal High School, Hill said she understands the need for an inclusive syllabus. Throughout her first years of teaching, she realized the district’s history curriculum contained major gaps.

“Fort Worth ISD is majority Mexican or Latino students, and they don’t always see themselves in their history curriculum,” she said. “They don’t find any representation of themselves, anything to find pride in and to find connection to.”

As part of her master’s studies at the University of Texas at Arlington, Hill wrote the curriculum for a Latino Studies class for the Fort Worth school district. The elective course, which students can take in place of world history, is now an option for teachers throughout the district.

In 2018, the same year Hill began her doctoral studies at TCU, several university faculty members started collaborating with Fort Worth ISD to update its social studies curriculum.

The district had been working on a plan to infuse classes — from kindergarten through 12th grade — with content about African American and Latino history and culture.

Joseph Niedziela ’99, director of social studies at Fort Worth ISD, said he hoped a culturally responsive curriculum would help students feel represented in the classroom. The state’s standardized history guidelines “present primarily a Eurocentric, single story of American history and world history. So there was a need to present students with a fuller, more complete narrative of history.”

Max Krochmal, associate professor of history and chair of TCU’s Comparative Race and Ethnic Studies program, invited Hill to work with a team of professors who were serving as academic consultants for the endeavor. Her teaching experience and prior collaboration with the district made her an important asset. Hill focused on reframing the eighth grade American history curriculum.

Students “don’t find any representation of themselves, anything to find pride in and to find connection to.”
Cecilia Hill

“St. Augustine in Florida was a colony before Jamestown was. Santa Fe was just about the exact same time as Jamestown,” she said. “The way history is taught in school, it’s not taught from a Latino perspective. Spanish was the first European language spoken in the United States. It’s not English, but our curriculum is very Eurocentric, English centric.”

Now deep in her doctoral research, Hill is examining the university’s work with Fort Worth ISD and showing how such partnerships could lead to more expansive representation in the future.

Leading the Change

She is also helping TCU become a more inclusive campus.

“TCU had its problems — it continues to have its problems … but it is changing,” she said. “There are efforts in place. There are people actively making new decisions, and decisions that would have never been made in the late ’90s when I was in high school at Paschal. So it’s amazing to be part of that, to be part of [comparative race and ethnic studies], to be part of the conversations taking place about making TCU a welcoming environment for people who look like me.”

In March, she led a group of undergraduate students to the National Association of Chicana and Chicano Studies conference, and she is coordinating future speakers and events.

After graduating, Hill plans to work as an academic adviser for college students pursuing careers in education. She said the classes young students take will form their perspectives on history as well as 21st-century society. And, she said, it is important — now more than ever — for students of all races and backgrounds to feel included and represented in the nation’s history and culture.

Your comments are welcome

4 Comments

  1. Inspired…press on.
    Continue to seek truth and share reality.
    Cecilia, keep me posted on your progress, would love to support you as you present your dissertation.
    Anthony Renteria
    PoSc/History – ‘91

  2. We are so proud Ms. Hill is a Texas Wesleyan grad!

  3. I’m blown away to know that you’re my cousin. I have tried doing the same back in Seattle. We wanted to learn our history also. I am so proud of you cousin!

  4. I love this so much! This piece is well written about an incredible woman doing important work regarding the history of our area.

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