PICO RIVERA, Calif. (AP) _ A Southern California school district will require ethnic-studies classes _ ahead of a similar curriculum that legislators hope to someday implement statewide.

The El Rancho Board of Education has agreed that all students, beginning with the class of 2016, must pass an ethnic-studies course before graduating.

The district near Los Angeles is thought to be the first in California with such a requirement, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday (http://lat.ms/1zn6v1F ).

Latino students make up 98 percent of the approximately 9,400 students in the district.

“When students learn about themselves, their history, it gives them self-worth and self-esteem and they do better in school,” said Jose Lara, vice president of the El Rancho Board of Education, who co-sponsored the proposal.

“We want to make sure that we’re producing students who go to college and are entering fields that Latino students typically don’t go into,” Lara said.

The course requirement will replace a current geography requirement. The curriculum will be worked out over the next year.

Lara said there might be a variety of classes offered, such as an art class that focuses on Mexican-American work or an English class that includes African-American literature.

The state Senate is considering legislation that would require the Education Department to form a task force to study the best approach for implementing a standardized ethnic studies curriculum in all high schools.

Opponents argue that ethnic studies classes are divisive.

Tucson, Arizona, had a Mexican-American studies program but it ended in 2011 when the state banned classes that are primarily designed for a particular ethnic group or that “promote resentment toward a race or class of people.”

El Rancho school board President Aurora Villon contended that an ethnic studies program would have the opposite effect.

“It’s extremely important for students to have an understanding and pride in their ethnic background _ not only Latino students, but all students,” she said. “What a beautiful way to unite people and for them to contribute what their culture can to the mainstream _ it’s what America is all about.”