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The Ethnic Studies & Social Justice Academy


After a decade-long battle to challenge common practices in high school core Social Science and English-Language Arts curriculum, The Ethnic Studies & Social Justice Academy was piloted during the 2019-2020 school year, and then formally launched in the Fall of 2020. Following the lead of San Leandro High School’s Social Justice Academy as a model, ESSJ seeks to educate our scholars within a holistically humanizing space that centers voices of the young scholars in the classroom, as well as the voices of BIPOC communities, their ancestors, allies, and co-conspirators in order to develop critical consciousness lens during their educational experience. 

ESSJ is designed for students who want to realize their potential as agents of positive and transformative social, emotional, cultural, economic, and political change in themselves, their communities, and the larger local, national, and global contexts they live in . ESSJ utilizes a rigorous three-year process where students learn to interweave critical and decolonial theory and action to reach praxis, whereby ESSJ scholars leave the program with a stronger sense of self, community, and agency.

ESSJ Guiding Principles


ESSJ uses the following structures to ensure student success:

- Looping cohorts of students through ESSJ Social Science and English-Language Arts courses for three years*.

- Specially designed curriculum that focuses on ethnic studies, social justice, gender studies, peer education, campaign development and activism, social and emotional skill development, college-level research, critical thinking, and public speaking skills.

- Field trips, guest speakers, project-based learning, internships/mentorship and events that connect to the curriculum.

ESSJ is a 3 - year small-school program within a large comprehensive high school that will focus on three major concepts integral to Ethnic Studies and Social Justice. Each concept will be the main theme for Academy scholars as they move together through their core courses, connecting the concepts through the coursework of each year. 


1. ANALYZE Sophomores (Identity):  The 10th-grade year for ESSJ sophomores will focus on providing students with a foundation on identity, common struggles, systems of oppression, and social constructions of race, class, and gender. The goal of the first year is to build a strong sense and knowledge of self and community and to begin to develop critical consciousness. 


2. ORGANIZE Juniors (Activism and Organizing): Academy students will focus on solidarity and collective action throughout their 11th-grade year.  Building on the work from the previous year, students learn the basics of activism and organizing, movement building, and campaign development. Over the course of the year, students work as a class to conduct a needs assessment and develop a focus for a year-long campaign they will run in their senior year.


3. MOBILIZE Seniors (PRAXIS):  The focus of the 12th-grade year for Academy students is self-determination and critical consciousness.  Senior year requires students to conduct an independent research-action project on an issue of their choice.  Students research, conduct interviews, do field-work, and create a mini-campaign throughout the course of the year.  The class ends with a public testimony of their work. In addition to this, they run a campaign as a class, which might be local, national, or even global in its scope. 


The Ethnic Studies and Social Justice Academy is available to students beginning in their 10th-grade year and to students continuing in the Academy from the preceding year only. Ninth graders interested in ESSJ can sign up and apply to be in the Academy. 


  • ESSJ educators and scholars build a critical, intersectional consciousness that challenges traditional educational curricula, standards, and pedagogy. 

  • Challenge and criticize power, oppression, capitalism, white supremacy, imperialism, colonialism, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, cis-heteropatriarchy, ableism, and xenophobia on the internal, interpersonal, institutional, and ideological levels. 

  • Reimagine themselves and their communities outside of the master narrative. ​



  • ESSJ educators and scholars cultivate a familial structure that values holistic humanization, compassion, community cultural wealth, and critical and radical love and hope. 

  • Center the communities that have been marginalized.

  • Understand personal, collective, and generational experiences, trauma, and resilience. 

  • Cultivate compassion and move towards healing. 

  • Utilize a restorative justice framework that allows students to thrive, heal, and build resilience. 



  • ESSJ educators and scholars learn the importance of solidarity and understand that they must transcend mere symbolic and transactional solidarity and embody intersectional and transformative solidarity, true activism. 

  • Take action on a local, national, and global scale. 

  • Learn from resistance movements of the past and present. 

  • Disrupt systems of power and oppression. 

  • Develop a sense of agency and accountability. 


Meet The Family


My name is Jeren Peñalosa and I am currently teaching World Studies for the Sophomore class of ESSJ! I also teach within the Ethnic Studies department under Pilipinx Heritage Studies & Issues in Ethnic Studies. I am a byproduct and my roots are in Union City as I am a Logan alumni class of 2014! Some of my hobbies include traveling, eating all types of foods, hiking/being outdoors, and watching a ton of shows/movies/animes! My values for teaching in our academy are to create a warm, safe, and strong community with our scholars through exploring our own intersectional identities, connecting with our ancestral roots, and analyzing hxstory especially stories that are often untold across our globe! 

Mr. Justin Kurup has enjoyed working as the sophomore English teacher for the Ethnic Studies & Social Justice (ESSJ) Academy at James Logan High School. With over 10 years of experience in education, Mr. Kurup teaches in the Ethnic Studies, Language Arts, and Performing Arts departments. Mr. Kurup is also the Director of Forensics Speech and Debate program, where they have won the state and national championship multiple times. He actually grew up in the Union City community and competed on the James Logan team where he even won a title himself as a student. He is a proud alumni of University of California, Davis and earned a masters in Urban Education & Social Justice from the University of San Francisco. 

Though he has many passions, Mr. Kurup enjoys writing poetry and traveling the world. He doesn’t go anywhere without his ride or die; a playful pit bull mix named Meeko. With a justice-oriented approach, Mr. Kurup hopes to match students’ commitment to social change to cultivate inclusive learning spaces that will produce change-makers in our community and beyond. Rooted in humor and compassion, Mr. Kurup sees his students as storytellers, truth seekers, and the ones we have been waiting for to set us all free.

Hello! My name is Asta James, and I’m very new to the SF Bay Area, and I’m loving every minute of this new phase of my life in such a beautiful climate. I previously taught high school English and newcomer English language development in Houston and Los Angeles. Since both of my parents immigrated from Latin America and struggled to be heard in their 1980s classrooms, I am especially passionate about exploring and uplifting the many fascinating cultures and diverse voices found in our country. In my spare time, I can usually be found watching anime, reading fiction novels, lifting weights, squeezing my chonky cats, or continuing the scarf I’ve been knitting for the past year. 

A product of Union City and the greater Bay Area, Ivan Viray Santos, is proud to serve as a teacher and the coordinator for ESSJ. Santos currently teaches ESSJ US Hxstory, ESSJ Economics, and ESSJ Government. He also sits as the Chair of The Ethnic Studies Department at James Logan High School, for which he also teaches Asian American Studies. Santos is a Logan alum (c/o 1996) and credits Logan Ethnic Studies as well as the various community organizations and educators he has had the privilege of being a part of and working with, since his teenage years, for molding him into the educator he is today. He is a firm believer that love, community, and solidarity sit at the core of a holistically humanizing education. Santos = proud partner. father. son. brother. uncle. ninong. teacher. student. Pilipinx 

Providing learning opportunities and activities for our scholars like field trips, guest speakers, and workshops requires extra funding. Many of our activities and events that take place outside of the classroom have been afforded to us by donations from community members and our supporters. If you'd like to support ESSJ via a donation please click on the WINTER DONATION DRIVE IMAGE or the QR codes below.

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1800 H St., Rm 124
Union City, CA 94587

(510) 471-2520

©2016 by ESSJ 
Analyze x Organize x Mobilize

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