As an educator, one of the most exciting times in a school year is the hustle it takes to get our entire campus ready to welcome back our community. On the first day of school, we stand tall ready to develop relationships with our students, hear tales of summer, and adhere to new schedules. The exhilaration is palpable, you can see it in every smile, every strut down the hallway, and in the echo of “¡Buenos Dias!”, “¿Como fue tu verano?” or “¿Quién es tu maestro a este año?” The beginning of the school year is full of promise. It’s also full of inevitable changes, and the unknown. This beginning is predictable; however, the challenges that were to come this year could have never been anticipated nor even imagined.
As the August smoke from wildfires cleared our Ukiah skies, and students were once again able to play outside at recess, the Grace Hudson Language Academy staff were gearing up to host a true legend, Dolores Huerta. This was a distinct honor. Dolores Huerta is a true hero in the eyes and hearts of our bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural staff, families, and students. Many years of studying and celebrating her achievements had come to fruition. A labor leader, civil rights activist, and originator of the saying, “¡Sí se puede!” (Yes you can!), would be a guest at our school.
When the day came, the beloved Mrs. Huerta was met with a terrific amount of admiration, she commented, “I don’t know if I can fit through the door anymore, my head is so big.” Members of our school and city community walked the halls of Grace Hudson with our special guest as she read what students had passionately written about her. She marveled at all of their artwork and spoke with teachers who sincerely thanked her for the support of their farmworker parents.
As we exited the final hallway, we were met by third-grade students chanting, “¡Sí se puede!, ¡Sí se puede!, ¡Sí se puede!” More students gathered as did adults and joined the chorus. Dolores Huerta stopped in her tracks, pumped her fist rhythmically with the voices, and smiled. The image of her and our students in harmony is one that I will never forget and will continue to see in my mind’s eye when I know that there is a challenge ahead. ¡Sí se puede! ¡Sí se puede! ¡Sí se puede!
The tour’s final destination was the fantastic mural that local artist Lonnie Lopez created and painted in collaboration with our staff. Dolores Huerta signed the mural as she is a central figure, and we proceeded to a lunch donated by many of our local Mexican restaurants.
Dolores Huerta later spoke to a packed gym filled with our students, parents, staff members, dual language immersion students, and teachers from Pomolita Middle School, and many community leaders. Her message of understanding and compassion, standing up and speaking up for others, and ¡Sí se puede! resonated deeply with all in attendance.
After the visit from Dolores Huerta, we settled into the calm of uninterrupted school days and hard work at Grace Hudson. Near the end of October, we were confronted with the Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS), this was a strange place to be in, no power, and no school for a week due to high winds that could rupture the scar of the wildfires that our community had endured. Anxiety and stress ensued. However, at Grace Hudson, our motto continued to be “¡Sí se puede!”
Fast forward to March, we find ourselves in another unpredictable situation. A Shelter in Place order due to COVID -19, and the potential of harm it could have on our community. As a group of educators, we were thrust into a technologically driven, remote learning world while maintaining our bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural mission in addition to sustaining our own households. Managing and supporting this new world of education proves to be demanding on all levels, but still we persist and excel. ¡Sí se puede! ¡Sí se puede! ¡Sí se puede!
Here we are in the middle of May, still sheltering in place, approaching the end of the school year without the closure of our traditional events and customs. Before we are able to complete this cycle, we are already inquiring and planning for next year. The unknown is difficult for most to manage, but whatever it brings; ¡Sí se puede! ¡Sí se puede!¡ Sí se puede!