Jose Antonio Vargas Elementary School, which opens for the first time tomorrow, made history as the first school in the country to ever be named after an undocumented immigrant. Vargas, an MVHS alumnus, is a prominent journalist and immigration rights activist.
The school officially opened last Thursday with a dedication event featuring several speeches,
including one from Vargas, t-shirt sales, classroom tours, a live band, and a photo booth. The school is located on the site formerly known as Slater Elementary School which closed 15 years ago.
“This side of Mountain View hasn’t had a school for so long that it’s going to be a great feel for them,” said Ayindé Rudolph, superintendent of the Mountain View Whisman School District.
Rudolph, along with the Board of Trustees and many others, talked with the community about what qualities they wanted in a namesake for the new school before coming up with a list of finalists: Michelle and Barack Obama, Gail Urban Moore—a former school board member— and Jose Antonio Vargas.
“I think the most important thing is that it’s someone from our community, who’s from Mountain View, and who serves as an inspiration for what kids can do regardless of your background or where you’re from or your economic status,” Rudolph said.
Born in the Philippines, Vargas immigrated to the US when he was 12 unaware of his undocumented status. He grew up in Mountain View with his grandparents and attended Crittenden Middle School and MVHS where he was co-editor-in-chief of The Oracle.
He is now a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who also wrote a memoir on his personal experience as an undocumented immigrant, “Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen,” and co-founded a non-profit immigration advocacy group called “Define American.”
We are going to have a lot of challenges and our goals are really just to build and implement systems that are going to empower students
Rudolph said that naming the school after Vargas is a great way to show the community’s support for immigrants. He said some people describe the action as a way to “make a statement without having to make a statement.”
For this first school year, 320 students have enrolled in grades Kindergarten through fourth. Since the construction will not be fully finished until around Dec., the fifth-grade classes will begin next year when the occupancy raises from 400 students to 450.
The students from first grade and up who will attend JAVES are northern MV residents who are transferring from other schools throughout the district. Maxwell Gill, a student coming from Landels Elementary to JAVES, said that he is very excited to go to a new school.
“He was actually super disappointed to leave Landels,” Lara Gill, Maxwell’s mom, said. “But once we saw what a special place it is going to be, he changed his mind.”
As much enthusiasm as this new school has generated, the transition has been rough, according to Vernorris Taylor, the principal of JAVES.
“We are going to have a lot of challenges and our goals are really just to build and implement systems that are going to empower students,” Taylor said.
Vargas said in his speech he hopes his influence will facilitate a safe, open, and accepting culture at JAVES that will bring together the northern MV community.
“School was a place where I was protected and mentored by teachers who didn’t just care about my grades, but they actually cared about who I was and where I came from. They cared about my story,” Vargas said.