Win for Indian American Vivek Prasad as Fremont School District is first in CA with Hindi as elective

The Fremont Unified School District voted 4-1 in favor of adding Hindi as an elective subject.

Ritu Jha–

The Fremont Unified School District (FUSD) has become the first in California to allow two schools to adopt Hindi as an elective subject. Following a sustained effort from Indian American Vivek Prasad, the FUSD Board voted in favor of introducing Hindi as a world language into its curriculum. The school board voted 4 to 1 to launch a pilot program that will see Hindi in the curriculum of John Horner Middle School and Irvington High School for the 2024-2025 school year.

Nearly 65% of the student population in these two schools is from the Indian American community.

The battle to include Hindi in the FUSD curriculum started almost two decades ago. Though several requests were made by the Indian American community of FUSD, it gathered momentum after Vivek Prasad became the first Indian American to be elected to its board in 2020.

The schools currently offer Mandarin in two schools, and offer other languages such as French, Spanish, and Japanese.

“We had to make a case, and that’s where I helped the people who wanted Hindi in the school curriculum. Most students want to take a language elective when they are in 7th and 8th grades so that when they get to high school, they are done with two years of language and they are left with only one more year of language to take. That frees up two electives they can use to expand their academic portfolio,” said Prasad, who works a senior tech executive in the San Francisco Bay Area.

However, the reason for opting for Hindi among the South Asian community is a little different. Prasad told indica, “A majority of students in the Fremont Unified School District have relatives back in India. If they learn Hindi, they can communicate with their people back home. This is a requirement that should have been fulfilled a long time ago. There was a survey done by the parents of the students of Irvington High School and John M. Horner Middle School. Though not a scientific survey, close to 500 students expressed interest in learning Hindi.”

“We decided to do this as a pilot project, so we don’t want to open the floodgates in the first year. We’ve made a few exceptions in terms of doing this. The process started late, and the course catalog will be finalized by November 2024. However, we discussed the proposal in December 2023 and approved it in January. The board made an exception based on the demand from students and parents. This is one of the bigger wins for the community. The board listened to the asks of the community and did what was the right thing for our students,” Prasad added.

Prasad, whose roots are in Hazaribagh, Bihar, and has been in the US for the last three decades, was among those parents who wished to educate their children in Hindi. “When my kids were going through school, I wanted Hindi as an elective subject. At that time we didn’t get any traction with the school system and this conversation continued. Once I got on the Fremont Unified School District Board of Education a group of parents met me. I helped them approach the board for this ask. We got a four-one vote in favor,” he said.

Getting Hindi included in the school curriculum was no cakewalk. “Though the final decision was emphatically in favor of the proposal, one trustee appeared to be creating a higher bar for adopting Hindi as a course compared to the 20 other courses approved earlier in October. I stepped up because the proposal needed somebody who was strongly supporting it for other board members to back it,” Prasad told indica.

“Getting a course approved requires some justification. When people ask to include a new language in the curriculum, there’s always one reason or the other to say why should we pick this language versus another language. Each course offering requires some changes to be made because if somebody takes Hindi as an elective subject, they are not taking some other elective. There is a consideration — what happens to the teacher who was teaching the other elective? And there’s a cascading impact on other courses. The choices that are being made are not always based on the demand. It’s also based on the impact. And are there cost implications of that,” he explained.

There are some challenges ahead. The first is hiring Hindi teachers. “We add courses all the time, and there is a well-defined process for hiring teachers. We define the set of courses that will be offered and we’ll have to hire a teacher who has a Hindi credential, or some existing teacher of the school may want to teach Hindi. Both choices are open. The recruitment process has begun. The course will be put
on the schools’ catalog, and it will be offered only at these two campuses – Irvington High School and John M. Horner Middle School — for the upcoming school year. In March, students will be able to pick what courses they want to take. Based on that, a master schedule will be created, and then the teachers will be allocated based on the available pool of teachers.”

“We’ll need to find some funding for buying textbooks, but the number of teachers needed to teach at the school will not change. We have to hire one teacher for Hindi, but we will not have to let go of any other teacher because every year we have 150 to 200 teachers either quitting or retiring. Once the course is allocated or added to the course catalog, then for the upcoming school year, the 2024-25 school year, we are putting a limit on which campuses can offer it. After that, it will be open to any school that wants to offer it,” Prasad said.

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