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City and CUSD recognize ‘Making Change’ winners

by Andrew Alonzo | aalonzo@claremont-courier.com

The City of Claremont and the Claremont Unified School District recognized students who participated and won honors in this year’s Making Change contest via Zoom Monday evening. Each winner was given a certificate by the city praising their hard work.

Students submit various projects focused on making a difference for the annual CUSD competition. This 32nd year focused on human rights and social justice. The contest, open to students between kindergarten and 12th grade, “presents an opportunity for Claremont students to honor the efforts of these advocates of social change to transform the world for the better,” according to a news release.

CUSD Board President Steven Llanusa and Mayor Jed Leano led the evening’s virtual meeting beginning with the 2022 group winners.

First recognized was Debbie Singley’s first-grade class at Chaparral Elementary, who filled a board with hand cutouts titled “Human Rights are for Everyone.” Each hand was filled in by a student who listed a human right. The class used two books for their poster, one called “The Colors of Us,” and another called “We Are All Born Free,” Singley said.

“We wanted to really learn about human rights, which is for all people, no matter your color, no matter your religion or who you are, or where you live” the teacher said at the meeting. “And I think they really understood [the assignment]. At first grade, you really have to teach them the basics.”

Mountain View Elementary first grader Grant Collette was given an honorable mention by the city and CUSD for his drawing of poet Amanda Gorman. Also receiving praise in the group category were Claremont high sophomores Jenni Puga-Raya and Sarah Mills. Mills wrote a poem and Puga-Raya created a visual commemorating the holiday Juneteenth.

The evening then shifted to the individual winners, who not only received a certificate, but also $100 for winning in their category.

Taking home the third and fourth grade category was Chaparral Elementary fourth grader Carmen Garcia. Carmen wrote a letter to city officials recognizing her great-great-grandfather, J. Marion Roynon, and his late-1940s efforts as superintendent of La Verne to desegregate and integrate the area’s schools. She read her letter aloud during the meeting.

“Even though he had the support of the school board, not everyone in the community agreed with desegregating the schools. He received threatening letters and phone calls, but this did not stop him from doing what was right,” Carmen said in her essay. “In 1957, Lincoln school renamed to J. Marion Roynon school. I feel really fortunate to be related to someone who stood up for equal rights of school children.

“I think of the possibility that I might not be able to attend schools with some of my friends because I’m Mexican … It takes someone with fairness, integrity, intelligence and courage to change history for those like me,” Carmen continued.

Winning the fifth and sixth grade category was Condit Elementary fifth grader Yaseen Omar with his essay about Harriet Tubman. He shared that the pivotal figure had more titles than just the Underground Railroad conductor and has since become one of the biggest symbols for hope and freedom.

“The most important thing is that she wanted everyone to live an equal life, no matter your skin color,” Yaseen said. He also shared an excerpt from Tubman where she revealed in the eight years she ran the Underground Railroad she never lost a passenger.

“This amazes me, she was a master at her work,” Yaseen said. “I personally admire Harriet Tubman because of how selfless she was. She made me realize that just a simple act of kindness can go a long way … I [also] came to understand how much you have to risk to better the rules.”

The seventh and eighth grade category winner was El Roble Intermediate eighth grader Anna Fang. Fang created a PowerPoint presentation honoring disabilities rights activist Judith Ellen Heumann, who led a 28-day sit-in in San Francisco in support of Section 504, now a national law that protects qualified individuals from discrimination based on their disability.

“Judy Heumann has improved my brother’s life and so many others through her influential work as a disability rights activist,” Fang said Monday. “Personally, she has helped my brother by helping Section 504 get passed. My brother got cancer when he was 12 and had to get his leg removed as a result of the tumor. As a result of 504, he was able to be excused from physical education in high school since he was still regaining his ability to walk.”

CHS freshman Sofia Mayo Ou won the ninth and tenth grade category with her informative essay about Emma Watson and how apart from being an actress, she is a global champion for gender equality. In a speech in September 2014, Watson introduced the world to the United Nations Women’s ongoing campaign, He for She, and encouraged all to participate in “fixing the social gender gap.”

“If only half the world’s population pushes for equality, then that equality is possible,” Ou said.

“But if a majority of that population pushes for gender equality, then this equality is probable. And that’s the crux of the He for She campaign.”

“Emma Watson’s a major part of introducing and convincing people to commit to the cause,” Ou added. “Having the courage to speak up in front of some of the world’s most important leaders and people, is just as — if not more important, as staring in highly anticipated films.”

CHS junior Siena Dill-Cruz won the eleventh and twelfth grade category and concluded the evening by reading aloud her essay about what it takes to evoke social change.

“How can one word possess so much power and opportunity? How can one word change the world? Courage is what it takes to evoke social change,” Siena’s essay began. “Anyone can hope for social change, but to go out and actively participate and be an advocate for it exemplifies courageousness and defines a leader.”

The junior also highlighted that the contributions of human rights activists such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Amanda Gorman “have changed today’s society through their words and actions.” Siena added that she was inspired by her own friends to use her voice to inspire change when Claremont held a Black Lives Matter rally in June 2020.

Closing out the evening, Llanusa and Mayor Leano thanked not only the efforts of the students, but also the guidance of their parents and educators who helped make the contest possible. They also praised the city staff’s efforts judging the competition as there were many amazing entries to read through.

“It’s such an honor to be able to recognize all of your effort and I really look forward to one day when we are all writing about you,” Leano said.

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