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An El Sobrante middle school will be renamed in honor of Park Ranger Betty Reid Soskin after a vote by the West Contra Costa Unified School District’s Board of Education Wednesday night.

The name change came after eight months of consideration to turn Juan Crespi Middle School into Betty Reid Soskin Middle School. According to the district, social justice movements during the Covid-19 pandemic inspired the school to assign students a project researching their former namesake, a Spanish Franciscan missionary, and the mission system’s exploitation of the Indigenous people living in California.

The Juan Crespi Renaming Committee came up with two options for a new name: Chochenyo Middle School to recognize the language spoken by Indigenous tribes in the Richmond area, or Betty Reid Soskin.

Betty Reid Soskin, 99, is a park ranger at the Rosie the Riveter WWII/Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond. The museum honors World War II Home Front workers and recognizes the contribution of Richmond’s shipyards.

National Park Service National Park Service Ranger, Betty Reid Soskin, 99, at the Rosie the Riveter Visitor Center in Richmond, Calif., on April 4, 2017.

Jamela Smith-Folds, WCCUSD trustee, said in a statement:

“The district must be agents of change. … Naming a middle school Betty Reid Soskin is creating conditions for positive change.”

Before working at the museum, Soskin was herself a Home Front worker in Richmond. According to an article she wrote in Newsweek, she uses her position at the park to teach visitors about the experience of Black Home Front workers — an otherwise “missing” part of the story, she wrote.

District Trustee Demetrio Gonzalez-Hoy said in a statement:

“Betty Reid Soskin is a national icon, leader, and symbol of inspiration in the WCCUSD community.”

He added:

“I am thankful to the now Betty Reid Soskin community to be a small part of the process of this renaming and to the families, communities, and especially the students who advocated for this change.”

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