“Naming this school after Michelle Obama is a sign of the school's rebirth,” said a member of the district's board of education

By Benjamin VanHoose
February 13, 2020 11:20 AM

Michelle Obama has left her mark on the nation’s education system in more ways than one.

Members of the board of education at the West Contra Costa Unified School District in Richmond, California, recently unanimously voted to change the name of one the district’s elementary schools to honor the former first lady.

The new namesake will go into effect when a new facility opens for the elementary school in the 2020-2021 school year.

“Naming this school after Michelle Obama is a sign of the school’s rebirth,” Stephanie Hernandez-Jarvis, board president, said in a news release. “We can see the new physical structure being built, but this name change sets high expectations for the students and staff as they enter a new era for this school and this school community.”

Hernandez-Jarvis said parents and students pushed for the renaming, saying Obama’s values align with the school’s mission.

“She is a role model for our children and we strive to serve our students with the same kind of love, advocacy and courage that she served our country,” Hernandez-Jarvis said.

This will be the second school in California to rename itself after Obama, 56, after the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Michelle Obama Elementary in Panorama City.

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Former First Lady Michelle Obama
Paras Griffin/Getty Images

The West Contra Costa school district voted on the motion after the parent-teacher association wrote a letter advocating for the honorific.

“We wanted to choose someone on a global level,” Maisha Cole, president of the PTA, said in the news release. “With a new school and new learning environment, we want our children to think beyond Richmond, to think beyond California, and remind them that they can make a difference locally and globally.”

Principal Claudia Velez said she the update is intended to inspire the student body at the school (formerly known as Wilson Elementary School), which spans approximately 430 children from kindergarten to sixth grade.

“We have the opportunity to have a beautiful new school named after a person who really represents our diversity and values,” said Velez. “Our school is diverse, modern and innovative, and the things that the kids will be doing will prepare them for a very strong and successful future in whatever career they choose.”

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For Obama — who recently won a Grammy Award for the audiobook to her bestselling memoir, Becoming — the importance of a strong education system is key both at home and abroad.

When she marked International Day of Charity in September, she shared a sweet throwback photo from her early schooldays to spotlight the issue of educational access for girls.

“It’s so easy for us to take our education for granted, especially here in the United States,” she captioned the post. “Right now, more than 98 million adolescent girls around the world are not in school.”

She added: “I learned a lot in school—how to do my multiplication tables and structure a paragraph, yes, but also how to push myself, be a good friend, and dust myself off after a failure.”

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