Local school administrators, dignitaries, and elected officials gathered on Friday, Sept. 17 for a renaming ceremony to celebrate the name alteration of David Starr Jordan Middle School to Dolores Huerta Middle School.
Legendary social justice activist and guest of honor, Dolores Huerta, attended the gathering, as did 5th District Supervisor Kathryn Barger, Assemblymember Laura Friedman, State Senator Anthony Portantino, Burbank Board of Education President Steve Frintner, Vice President Charlene Tabet, Board Clerk Steve Ferguson, and Board Members Dr. Armond Aghakhanian and Emily Weisberg.
The ceremony began with a welcome from Dolores Huerta Middle School Principal Dr. Jennifer Meglemre, followed by a biography of Huerta’s life presented by middle school students. Huerta then addressed the student body with a speech, which was followed by a tour of the school, during which she spoke with students and learned of the various academic and extracurricular programs of Dolores Huerta Middle School.
The renaming of the middle school officially took place in March, but, as school was not then in session as a result of COVID-19 safety guidelines, school staff members decided to wait until in-person learning resumed to host the event. Meglemre spoke of her enthusiasm in being able to celebrate the name change amongst students, school staff, and Huerta herself.
“We’ve really been looking forward to this for a while,” Meglemre said. “Our students are very passionate about justice, about the rights of underrepresented people, and so I think they really connect with Dolores Huerta and what she stands for and what she’s always fought for….Particularly I think our girls and our Latinas connect with her as an activist, and we have a lot of students who strive to be activists themselves. So I think it’s…great for them to hear from her directly today.”
The deliberation process for renaming the school involved reviewing over 900 name suggestions from school staff and the Burbank community. The School Facilities Naming Committee initially narrowed this list down to a final group of ten, then subsequently collaborated to select three final name options. These were presented to the Burbank Board of Education, who collectively chose Dolores Huerta as the new name for the middle school.
Huerta’s career in activism began with the Community Service Organization and expanded when she formed the National Farm Workers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers, in 1962 with fellow activist César Chávez. Huerta used this platform to gain rights for underprivileged farmworkers, including disability insurance, Aid For Dependent Families, and the historic 1975 California Agricultural Labor Relations Act. Huerta also led the Delano grape strike, which secured better working conditions and salaries for farmworkers of Delano, CA, and coined the rallying cry of “Si, se puede” while fighting for workers’ rights in Arizona.
Vice President of the Burbank Board of Education Charlene Tabet spoke about what the title of Dolores Huerta Middle School signifies to young students as they learn of the importance of character development while attending school.
“The name symbolizes someone who comes in from…a very simple background, who works hard all her life, [engages in] education, [is] constantly growing, constantly putting herself out there, for the betterment of others,” Tabet said. “I think that’s a huge message, that it’s not always about you, but sometimes what you can do for others helps you grow up into an amazing human being.”
Students and staff eagerly met with Huerta and thanked her for her extensive work in human rights and social justice during her school tour. After the interactive visit, Huerta spoke highly of the advanced educational offerings at Dolores Huerta Middle School while expressing her appreciation for being chosen to have the school bear her name.
“I’m very honored to have the school named after me,” Huerta said. “I have to say that this is an amazing school. When you see all the programs that they have, the music, the art, the dance, the math, the science, the special education, the English learners, ….I want to wish that every school in the United States could be as wonderful as this one here. And to have my name connected with the school, that is pretty amazing, and it also makes me so very, very humble.”