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[whitespace] School district breaks ground on first new school since '76

Willow Glen--San Jose Unified School District officials broke ground June 9, on the Ernesto Galarza Elementary School, the district's first new school since 1976. And just as it's namesake--the Mexican-American educator, writer and civil rights activist--the school is expected to be a cornerstone of its community.

Construction is set to begin this summer, and the first school bells should start summoning students to class in September 2001.

San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales, SJUSD board members and teachers attended the groundbreaking ceremony last week at the future site of the school at 1610 Bird Ave.

The new 750-student complex will be located on the field opposite River Glen Bilingual Immersion Program School. River Glen's program will be moved to another location off-site to make room for new fields and playgrounds.

SJUSD board president Jorge Gonzales said Ernesto Galarza's legacy and example is worth naming a school after. "We're really talking about naming this school after a giant of a man," Gonzales said.

Jorge Gonzales says he hopes students who attend the new elementary school will take note of Galarza's principles and values and get involved in their community the way their school's namesake did.

Superintendent Linda Murray said the vision to build a new school in the district began three years ago when district officials decided to stop busing children to elementary schools out of their neighborhoods.

Instead, officials chose to build a school in the neighborhood to keep children close to home and give parents more opportunities to become involved.

And in keeping with Galarza's example, the school will also serve as a community center in the evening.

Mayor Gonzales said there is nothing that warms a mayor's heart more than building a better relationship between a city and its schools. The strength of any city, he said, lies in its neighborhoods, and neighborhoods are formed around its schools.

"We're recognizing a real American hero today," the mayor said about Galarza.

Born in Jolocotan, Nayarit, Mexico, Galarza moved with his family to Sacramento as a child and later attended Occidental College in Southern California.

In 1927, he received a fellowship to study Latin American history and political science at Stanford University, and later continued his education at Columbia University where he began a doctoral degree in Latin American history.

Over the years, Galarza was given an honorary Doctor of Humane letters degree from Occidental College for his efforts to end poverty and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in Literature.

After 11 years in Washington, where he pushed for social change for farm workers, he moved to San Jose to become director of research and education for the National Farm Labor Union.

With the union, Galarza led strikes against fruit companies and organized sugar cane workers and strawberry pickers in Louisiana. He also spend several years as an activist for Mexican-American farm workers and communities.

In 1971, he founded the Studio Laboratorio for Bilingual Education, an SJUSD workshop that offers hands-on opportunities for children to learn cultural values, natures and arts.

Galarza died in his San Jose home in June 1984 at age 79.
Chantal Lamers

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Web extra to the June 15-21, 2000 issue of Metro.

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