School's Namesake Inspires Pupils

Article excerpt

Byline: Anne Williams The Register-Guard

Three weeks into the new school year, it's safe to say every student at Cesar Chavez Elementary School knows something about the legacy of the esteemed Mexican American labor-rights leader for whom their school is named.

And if they don't quite know the meaning of the expression "si se puede," they certainly know how to yell it - with feeling.

That talent was on display in force Thursday, as students, staff, school district officials, community leaders and a few special guests gathered in the school gym to formally dedicate the new building.

Speaking at the hourlong ceremony were state School Superintendent Susan Castillo, the first Latina elected to statewide office, and Ramon Ramirez, president of Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United and a friend of the late Chavez.

But it was the school's 492 students who stole the show. Stepping to the microphone in teams of two to six, students from each of the 21 classrooms presented Principal Sally Huling with a dinner-plate-sized, Chavez-themed cardboard puzzle piece and said a few words about the man of whom they've made a quick study. The pieces will be assembled and displayed somewhere in the school.

The comments drew smiles, giggles and applause, and ranged from the simple - "Cesar Chavez was a very nice person" - to the thought-provoking - "The picture is unfinished and may change, just like the struggle for justice."

The children also sang "De Colores" in well-practiced Spanish, and chanted "Si se puede!" (`It can be done') at the urging of Ramirez, who told them to follow that principle in their approach to school and to life.

"Si se puede" was the rallying cry last winter during an impassioned and occasionally angry two-month effort to persuade the school board to choose the Chavez name. The board's final vote in March was 4-3.

Leading the charge then were members of the Jefferson Middle School Ganas Club, a Latino student organization, who addressed the crowd.

Eighth-grader Elizabeth Sampedro explained to the younger students the significance of the name, which not only honors a great man but also recognizes Latinos, who account for the fastest-growing segment of the community. …