The Spokane Public School Board has unanimously voted to name their new middle schools after a Japanese civil rights activist, the woman who saved the Spokane Salish language, and a Holocaust freedom fighter.
Spokane’s new middle schools will be named after Denny Yasuhara, Pauline Flett and Carla Peperzak.
Denny Yasuhara was a civil rights leader, advocate for racial justice and the rights of Asian Americans. He grew up during WWII, and endured anti-asian racism as many Japanese families were forced into internment camps. He also was a Garry Middle School teacher, who was known for his commitment to his students.
His widow, Thelma Yasuhara, thanked the school board.
“Thank you for the honor you have given my husband. He loved his students, and he loved middle school. I told him, why don’t you go to junior college, or high school, that would be easier on you. And his answer was, they need me. That sounds terrible, egotistical, but he really loved his children.”
The Northwest middle school will be named after Pauline Flett. She was a Spokane tribal elder who is credited with reviving the Salish language. She was one of the first to put it into writing, and was instrumental in developing the curriculum in Salish schools to help young tribe members and their families learn their language.
School Board Chair Jerrall Haynes said he appreciated all the names put forward, and said naming a school after Flett will allow her story to be shared going forward.
“You can say that she saved a language, saved a culture and history, and so that story, mixed with the geographic location of that school, it just makes so much sense.”
The South Spokane Middle School will be named after Carla Peperzak, who is a survivor of the holocaust and was a freedom fighter for Jewish people imprisoned in concentration camps. She moved to Spokane in 2004 and has shared her story with many Spokane Public Schools students.
Nikki Lockwood said Peperzak’s life is inspiring, and she has a story students need to learn.
“It just shows woman as brave, resourceful and is highlighting a story that is relevant to the curriculum that’s taught in middle school. They learn about the holocaust at that time. They’re becoming teenagers, and she was a teenage when she did some of those amazing things.”
Lockwood said she’s hoping a few of the names that weren’t chosen, such as York, a black, enslaved explorer who traveled with Lewis and Clark, and Frances Scott, the first African American woman attorney, could still be names for other schools in the area.