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Napa’s new English-Spanish academy to be named Unidos Middle School

Napa's new dual English-Spanish academy to be named Unidos Middle School

A new English-Spanish dual-language academy, slated to take over the site of River Middle School starting with the 2022-23 year, will be named Unidos Middle School A nine-person committee appointed by the Napa Valley Unified School District recommended the name, which won approval Thursday from the district's board of education.

The name of Napa’s future English-Spanish middle school will call to mind unity – of two languages and different student bodies.

Unidos Middle School on Thursday night won the unanimous approval of the Napa Valley Unified School District board as the name of its future grade 6-8 dual-language academy, which will open in August 2022 on the current campus of River Middle School in north Napa. The name had gained the recommendation of a citizens’ committee that had met since August.

First suggested by a local dual-language student, Unidos emerged from dozens of suggestions offered by students, faculty and local residents. In the course of four meetings from the end of August to mid-October, a nine-member committee of educators, parents and residents created a shortlist of potential school names before endorsing Unidos Middle School .

Franklin Hernandez, a committee member and sixth-grade teacher at the Napa Valley Language Academy, credited one of his students, Efrain Velazquez, with offering what became the winning choice.

“He really helped me to see the power of the name ‘unidos’ as it relates to bringing together new communities under a new vision and mission,” Hernandez, speaking by Zoom teleconference, told the board. “I think that the simplicity and power of the name will help write a new chapter in the NVUSD’s history.”

Students entering the new dual-immersion academy will include children from the district’s two elementary-level English-Spanish programs – NVLA at 2700 Kilburn Ave. in Napa’s Westwood neighborhood, which teaches kindergarten to sixth grade, and Pueblo Vista Magnet School, a K-5 academy at 1600 Barbara Road in Napa.

Unidos’ opening is part of a district realignment that will include closing Harvest Middle School, the current local home of dual-immersion English-Spanish teaching in grades 6-8, when the current academic year ends in June.

On its debut in 2022-23, Unidos will replace River Middle School, a former charter academy that in early 2020 moved into a renovated version of the former Salvador Elementary at 1850 Salvador Ave. NVUSD trustees approved Harvest’s closure, and River’s replacement by the new dual-immersion academy, in April, as a response to falling enrollment that has eroded the district’s per-student education funding from the state.

In a brief video played at the board meeting, Efrain Velazquez, the NVLA student who suggested the Unidos name, acknowledged his hopes for bringing students closer together amid the changes at local schools.

“Unidos was my original idea because several schools were closing, and since ‘unidos’ means ‘coming together,’ I saw it would be a good name, no matter our backgrounds and the color of our skin,” he said.

The branding of Napa’s new dual-language academy won firm support from NVUSD’s board members, particularly for being inspired by a potential future student.

“We live in complicated times, and Mr. Hernandez sold me on simplicity,” said Cindy Watter, who approved the name along with five other trustees (Robin Jankiewicz was absent). “They had a list of great names but I do like this one; it sends a positive message of union, ‘out of many, one,’ (that) we are a community, and this is what we want to foster with our middle school.”

“You have a very convincing advocate there, your student,” she said of Efrain to his teacher Hernandez. “Thank you.”

“It’s an elegant name, a simple name, it’s meaningful, and it reflects the meaning of coming together of elementary schools into a broader community, which every middle schooler experiences,” added trustee Jason Dooley. “This is a good aspirational name; we can look at the signs on the campus when they’re put up, and it’ll be something to aspire to when you come to school every day.”

Unidos was one of several names to emerge as finalists to christen the future middle school when the advisory committee met in September. One of the options, United Language Academy, was abandoned due to concerns about confusion with Napa United, the youth soccer program.

Students entering middle school from NVUSD’s other dual-immersion programs at NVLA, Pueblo Vista and Harvest, along with current River students, will be enrolled by default at the Unidos school, but can opt for other district schools through the district’s open-enrollment program, the district announced in a statement posted to its website after the Thursday meeting. Parents whose children not automatically enrolled at Unidos can apply to enter the academy during NVUSD’s enrollment period, which begins Nov. 1 and runs through the end of the month.

Harvest Middle School students in Napa recently returned to campus for the first day of school. This is the last "first" day for the school. Due to district-wide declining enrollment, Harvest will close at the end of this school year.

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You can reach Howard Yune at 530-763-2266 or hyune@napanews.com

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Public Safety Reporter

Howard Yune covers public safety for the Napa Valley Register. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.

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