Honoring Asian Americans, Pennsylvania nonprofit advocates AAPI studies in classrooms

In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, FOX 29 went into a classroom at Downingtown S.T.E.M. Academy to meet a student who is advocating for AAPI education in Pennsylvania classrooms.

Shawn Zhu, 16, is a sophomore who plans on pursuing a degree in Computer Science after high school. In his spare time, he volunteers with Make Us Visible (MUV) PA, managing the social media content for the organization.

"Asian Americans have done so much for our country, and we feel that we want to share all of their stories, their struggles and their successes," said Zhu.

Kenneth Hong is the Co-Director of MUV PA and said there have been bills introduced in both the Pa. House and Senate for the thoughtful and comprehensive inclusion of AAPI History and contributions in K-12 classrooms.

"It’s important to have kids see themselves and see their peers in their education from day one," said Hong. "There are a lot of Asian American Pacific contributions to this country from the Arts and Sciences to Agriculture and Industry to Civil Service and Military Service. The whole spectrum."

Other MUV state chapters have moved bills through the state legislature and Hong said they overwhelmingly passed with bipartisan support. Some of those states include Florida, New Jersey, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

"I’m a fourth generation Chinese-American. We go back to at least 1888, but when we look at our history, we don’t see that. Maybe they touch on the railroads if we’re lucky, the Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese internment, but there’s a lot of things that are happening in between," said Hong.

MUV PA said the inclusion of AAPI studies not only celebrates the contributions and achievements of Asian Americans, but it also provides education to combat anti-Asian hate and violence.

Zhu said he has felt excluded in the past because of his race.

"I was told to go back to China on a lot of occasions on the school bus in elementary school," said Zhu. "When we increase the amount of AAPI curriculum in schools, what we do is we decrease the amount of hate, the amount of violence, the amount of ignorance and stereotypes. What it does is it also helps to alleviate the pain that some Asian Americans feel like we don’t belong in this country."

Justin Brown is the Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the Downingtown Area School District. He said the district values lessons' on others lived-experiences and he’s proud of students like Zhu who are using their voice.

"Asian American studies is very important, not only to the district, but also to the community members who live within our district," said Brown. "Teaching about empathy, kindness and understanding. Noticing that people are different, but there are more things that connect us than divide us. We’re trying to teach these concepts so that students when they’re interacting with each other, when they’re interacting with community members, with their teachers, with their colleagues, they are really having positive experiences. They’re seen, valued, heard and respected."

On Friday, May 31, the FOX 29 Special "Celebrating the Heritage of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders" premieres at 6:30 p.m.