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Rethinking history lessons: Virginia teenager designs curriculum recognizing women of color

Fight to get more women in history lessons
High school student successfully leads push to get more female figures in history curriculums 04:39

As a young woman of color, Prasidha Padmanabhan noticed that stories about women, and especially women of color, are often overlooked in U.S. history books. So she decided to take matters into her own hands.

The 17-year-old Virginia high school student is leading a modern-day crusade to rewrite the history books in one of the country's largest school districts. She's creating an entire course of study for elementary and middle school students in Virginia's Fairfax County, where her curriculum has already been adopted by some teachers.

CBS News' Nikole Killion spoke with Padmanabhan for the "CBS Mornings" series "Changing the Game," which profiles extraordinary women who are making a difference now and for future generations. The teen told her she was motivated by her own experience with the lack of education around women's history.

"I am a first-generation Indian and my mom's an Indian immigrant," she said. "And so I think growing up hearing her stories has always been something I wanted to learn more about and been inspired by."

Padmanabhan founded a group called WEAR — Women for Education, Advocacy and Rights. The organization launched a petition last year to integrate more women's history in their local schools.

Each lesson in her curriculum is crafted as a presentation to spark discussions about game-changing female figures. It covers everything from the Revolutionary War to the civil rights movement and highlights women like Claudette Colvin and Sybil Ludington.

"We all know Paul Revere was the man who said that the British are coming. But Sybil Ludington was a 16-year-old girl who rode horseback overnight to deliver the same exact message," Padmanabhan said.

"Claudette Colvin started the Montgomery bus boycott. She actually started it nine months before Rosa Parks," she said.

The effort comes amid a heated debate over public education curriculums in Virginia. Earlier this year, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed an executive order banning public educational programs that he claims are "inherently divisive," like critical race theory.

"What do you say to any parents out there or students who feel, 'Why am I learning this? Why should I have to learn this?'" Killion asked her.

"If we disregard what really happened in our history, then we're not getting the full picture and we're not going to be informed citizens," Padmanabhan said.

The curriculum caught the attention of Deborah March, an education specialist who connected her with Fairfax County teachers.

"Prasidha really helped us lift up the individual stories and contributions of women," March said.

Julie Kouril, who teaches sixth-grade American history, said this is a lesson for students and educators.

"We featured five different women in the lesson today and I'd never heard of any of them," she said.

Padmanabhan said her goal is for every student in Virginia and across the country to learn "equally" about women's contributions.

"I don't ever want a student to ask the question, 'Why does women's history matter?'" she said. "I want women's history to be history and I want that to be a concept that every student learns and understands."

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