Santa Maria’s newest school will be named for a pair of immigrant brothers who worked in the strawberry fields as children and landed diverse but successful careers while remembering their educational roots.
The Santa Maria-Bonita School District board of education voted Wednesday to name School No. 20 after Dr. Francisco and Robert Jimenez, former students in the district. In keeping with the district’s style where campuses have longer monikers but use the honorees’ last names for the everyday purposes, the school will be called Jimenez Elementary School.
Other finalists for names were Bill Libbon, who worked for decades at the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Santa Maria Valley, and the late police Cpl. Mark Riddering, who brought the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program to the district and taught students until he was forced to leave due to Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Before voting, the board heard from a stream of speakers making emotional pleas for the three finalists. In addition to district employees and community members, several students spoke.
“These are three great nominees,” board member Ricky Lara said. “It’s going to be a tough decision for us.”
“This is a daunting task,” board member Linda Cordero added.
An eight-member committee narrowed the community’s nominations to three for the board’s consideration after meeting three times in March.
Dr. Francisco Jimenez earned his doctorate degree and is an award-winning author of children and young adult literature, including The Circuit about his migrant family’s struggles. He is a professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at Santa Clara University.
Robert Jimenez began working as a custodian and in 40 years worked his way through the ranks of the classified staff, becoming purchasing supervisor. He died in 2014.
“The committee chose both of these names because Francisco and Robert Jimenez’s inspirational lives provide our students with the motivation to succeed,” said Patty Grady, assistant superintendent for human resources, adding the panel also noted the Jimenez brothers’ background is similar to the many fieldworker families in the district. “The committee also supported these two names because students can relate to their stories and see how, through hard work and education, you can achieve great things.”
Those who spoke in favor the Jimenez brothers’ recognition included family members who teach in the district, including Robert’s daughter, Angela Jimenez Doyle, a 23-year teacher in the district who called the two men “super heroes.”
“Santa Maria is where their heart belongs because it is where their education began,” she added.
Naming a school for her father and uncle will encourage and inspire other children of farmworkers, she added.
“To have a school named after the Jimenez brothers will be an inspiration and a reminder to all in the future that through education, hard work, perseverance, and positive guidance and dedicated teachers any child can overcome obstacles and reach goals and dreams in life,” she said.
The Jimenez brothers were illegal immigrants who worked in strawberry fields before they were even teens.
“They missed school quite a bit, but education was important,” said John Jimenez, their younger brother. “I think what better way to give our students hope, inspiration and motivation of what can be done.”
Fairlawn Elementary School teacher Robert Jimenez noted that his father’s and uncle’s successes are rooted in the classrooms of Santa Maria-Bonita schools. Through Francisco’s books, local students have developed a personal and profound connection with brothers.
“Their lives have directly influenced and impacted many students who are able to relate to them and believe they too can reach their goals no matter of their circumstances,” the teacher added.
After the vote, Robert Jimenez’s widow, Darlene, said, “We’re just so humbled.”
— Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.