EL SOBRANTE (KPIX 5) — The West Contra Costa Unified School District took a vote to change the name of one of their schools for the cause of social justice. But this time, it happened without a lot of argument.
On Wednesday, officials approved the renaming of Juan Crespi Middle School in El Sobrante to Betty Reid Soskin Middle School.READ MORE: PG&E to Face Criminal Charges Over Deadly Zogg Fire in Shasta County
The renaming of the school followed a school-wide history project researching Crespi’s past. Students found the 1700s Franciscan missionary helped create a system that subjugated the native population, forcing children as young as 10 years old to work.
“He represented the fact that he could take people’s land and convert them into a religion that they didn’t do, or start with,” said student Alena Vierra Allen.
“When I heard about it I was like, oh wow, I don’t want this as my school name,” said her sister and fellow student Ketana.
Most students had no knowledge about the man their school was named after. Thirteen-year old Anaya Zenad, who represented the student body on the renaming committee, said the research project was an eye-opening experience for everyone.
“Juan Crespi was very selfish and didn’t care for kids,” she told KPIX 5. “And a bunch of kids go here and our school name is not just a sign above the door. It means something.”
Because the entire school community was involved, there have been almost no objections raised about the decision to change the name.READ MORE: COVID Surge: Santa Clara County To Require Its 22,000 Workers To Be Vaccinated
Soskin, the new namesake of the school, has received even more universal approval.
The 99-year-old East Bay author and social justice activist is also the nation’s oldest active National Park Service park ranger. Soskin lives in the area and, though she was once given a Presidential Medal from President Barack Obama, she told the school board that this might be her most cherished honor.
“I can’t help but be delighted with having a school named for me,” Soskin said. “That is absolutely, that’s the one thing I’d love to see happen. And that this might happen is just more than I can dream. Thank you very, very much.”
Guthrie Fleischman, the school’s principal, said renaming the school for Soskin was an easy decision.
“That may be part of the reason there’s been less pushback,” Fleischman said, “because, there’s no…I can’t find a perspective one might have to push back on Betty Reid Soskin.”
Zenad said Soskin embodies everything the students were hoping for in a name.
“She doesn’t care about just one thing. She cares about everybody,” said Zenad. “And she’s freaking amazing. She worked until 99.”MORE NEWS: Roadwork Planned on Highway 37 in Solano, Sonoma Counties
The principal said an official dedication of the new name is tentatively set for September 22nd, which just happens to be Betty Reid Soskin’s 100th birthday.