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 last week.

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 makes remarks during the June 16 meeting of the Juan Crespi Renaming Committee after the group votes to rename the middle school in her honor. (Video courtesy of Juan Crespi Renaming Committee/YouTube)

Soskin, who will turn 100 on Sept. 22, 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.

“The district must be agents of change,” WCCUSD Trustee Jamela Smith-Folds said in a statement. “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.

“Betty Reid Soskin is a national icon, leader, and symbol of inspiration in the WCCUSD community,” WCCUSD Trustee Demetrio Gonzalez-Hoy said in a statement. “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.”