By Mike Kinney
Construction on the state-of-the-art Michelle Obama School campus in Richmond is set to be completed by the end of next month. Staff at Overaa Construction Company, which is building the project at the site of the former Woodrow Wilson Elementary campus at 42nd Street and Roosevelt Avenue, called the new campus featuring flexible classroom spaces and interlinked technology an asset to the community. Crews have been working on weekends to ensure it is completed on schedule, according to the Richmond-based company.
Of course, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it remains unclear whether students will be able to use their new campus in the fall.
The school, which serves about 430 students from Kindergarten through 6th grade, has been operating on a temporary campus at 7150 Portola Drive in El Cerrito while the Richmond campus is being rebuilt.
In February, at the request of parents and students, the school’s name was changed from Wilson Elementary to Michelle Obama School following a unanimous vote by the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) Board of Education. It’s the first school in Northern California and the second in the state to be named in the former First Lady’s honor.
The renaming of the school came amid scrutiny about the legacy of Woodrow Wilson, the 28th U.S. president, due in part to his pro-segregation policies while as president from 1913 to 1921. Princeton University recently removed Wilson’s name from campus buildings. Wilson was a graduate and president of Princeton.
Obama, also a graduate of Princeton, praised the university for the name change.
“Heartened to see my alma mater make this change, and even prouder of the students who’ve been advocating for this kind of change on campus for years,“ Obama wrote. “Let’s keep finding ways to be more inclusive to all students — at Princeton and at every school across the country.“
The Standard has reached out to Obama’s office for a comment on the Richmond school that’s been named after her. Will update this story if and when we receive a response.
WCCUSD officials laud the name change as a fresh and aspirational beginning for the new campus.
“The community has waited for a new school for a long time, and finally we are able to provide that for our children,” said Mister Phillips, a member of the WCCUSD Board of Education. “The fact we are able to name that school after such exceptional woman as the First Lady is the icing on the cake. The school bearing her name will inspire future generations of Richmond residents to reach their highest potential.”
Added fellow WCCUSD board member Consuelo Lara, “It is important that children of color need to have role-models and most definitely little girls. It is important that they see themselves in the roles at as they grow older.”
The new Michelle Obama School campus won’t be a traditional campus with long hallways lined with classrooms. Instead, the student community will have large classroom suites that enable teachers across grade levels to collaborate, according to WCCUSD Board Member Tom Panas. The flexible spaces can separate into smaller classrooms and be reconfigured in other ways depending on the school’s needs, Panas said.
The campus technologies are also synced up so that teachers can activate one or more monitors throughout each suite, according to Luis Freese, associate superintendent of Facilities and Bonds. Students will have access to WIFI throughout the campus, allowing them to use tablets and Chromebooks inside or outside, thus enabling opportunities for social distancing, Freese said.
“The new environment will encourage self-discovery, group and social learning and will enhance the way technology plays into the daily learning activities for students and staff,” Principal Claudia Velez said.