Sí se puede. “Yes, we can.” This rallying cry from civil rights leader and legendary community organizer Dolores Huerta has inspired and empowered a beautiful movement for nearly 50 years — one that students across California will soon learn more about because of the efforts of a small group of educators.
Since last year, these teachers have been meeting on their own time to work with the Dolores Huerta Foundation in developing curriculum for the statewide observance of Dolores Huerta Day on April 10. The day recognizes the labor icon’s tireless work for justice and encourages local school districts to teach students about her life and the struggle. This year’s observance will feature the freshly created curriculum, a fitting way to celebrate Huerta’s 90th birthday.
“I’m glad to share the lessons I’ve learned in my life so that others can learn from them,” says Huerta. “I want students to get a sense of their own empowerment and the things they can do to make the world a better place. I’m hoping that Dolores Huerta Day will be focused on civic engagement.”
“ To be able to stand with teachers is a great honor. Teachers are the foundation of our democracy and the soul of our nation.”
The curriculum includes lesson plans and content for students from kindergarten through high school to help examine the essential question: “How do people work together to solve problems and struggle to implement the solution?” The small team of educators developing the materials includes active and retired CTA members, all of whom said they feel honored to be able to help tell the story of Huerta to millions of California students.
“I’m so excited to shine a light on all that Dolores has done and how she has used her voice to make a difference,” says Veronica Miranda-Pinkney, a bilingual educator and member of San Jose Teachers Association (SJTA). “I really want our students to believe they can make a difference with their voices just like my ‘shero.’”
The team developing the curriculum also includes SJTA members Alison Stroot, Susan Seyan and María Carmen Guzman, retired SJTA member Wendy Greenfield, Holtville Teachers Association member Yurii Camacho, retired Campbell Teachers Association member Barbara Lynn, Vallejo Federation of Teachers member Maria Romero, and teacher Elena Robles, as well as staff from the Dolores Huerta Foundation. Many of these educators have personal connections to Huerta, her work as a founder of United Farm Workers, and her lifelong fight for justice.
“Dolores is such an empowering person. She brings out the best in people,” says Greenfield, who first worked with Huerta on the grape boycott in New York City in the late 1960s. “She’s an example of someone who speaks out against injustice and organizes people to do something about it.”
Students will also get an introduction to the concept of solidarity and how to work together to support each other and improve our communities. Stroot says a recent discussion in her classroom about Huerta and her life inspired her students, with one third grader remarking, “I didn’t know anyone could be an activist!”
“In these times, it’s really important to spotlight Dolores, because it shows that when you see a problem, you work together to fix it,” says Stroot. “A big piece of the curriculum is: How can you put Dolores’ teachings into action?”
Greenfield said it’s crucial for students to learn a simple truth about accomplishing any goal: Our power as individuals is limited, but our potential is boundless when we work together. This was true in the struggles of the past, and today’s challenges continue to show that unity and dedication power our ongoing fight for justice.
“‘Sí se puede’ is a commitment that we will not stop until we make a difference,” Greenfield says. “We need to do it together, keep struggling and never give up.”
Huerta and CTA are longtime partners in fighting for the schools our students deserve and the resources our communities need. From working side by side to pass school funding propositions 30 and 55 to advocating for landmark charter school accountability laws to knocking on doors to collect signatures to qualify the Schools and Communities First initiative, Huerta and CTA are making a difference for all California students. The labor leader even joined educators on the picket lines last year in Los Angeles and Oakland to support their historic strikes.
“I’m very proud to be in the same space as CTA and the great work that teachers are doing. To be able to stand with teachers is a great honor,” says Huerta, who started her career as a teacher in Stockton. “Teachers are the foundation of our democracy and the soul of our nation. We’ve got to give teachers the respect they deserve and the resources they need.”
Another component of this project is garnering local support for Dolores Huerta Day curriculum by asking school boards to adopt a resolution recognizing the day and commit to teach about the life and struggles of Huerta as a powerful force for social justice and empowerment for all. Miranda-Pinkney recruited CTA members across the state to present to their local school boards and ask for their support in honoring the American hero.
“She’s given so much to so many. And our students really identify with her,” she says. “One of my students said, ‘I’m going to be like Dolores and use my voice!’ We’ve got little activists here!”
Former Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill designating April 10 as Dolores Huerta Day in 2018, making her the first and only living person to hold the honor. Instead of a state holiday, the special recognition is intended to recognize Huerta and teach California students about her life. Last year was the first-ever Dolores Huerta Day in California, and a similar observance was adopted in Washington. For more information, go to doloreshuerta.org.
Dolores Huerta Day is April 10
Dolores Huerta has spent her life fighting for justice, giving a voice to the voiceless and empowering people to make change in their communities, and her lessons are as important as ever for young people today.
Celebrate Dolores Huerta Day with your students and show them the change that’s possible through the lessons of her life. Grade-specific lesson plans, content and other resources are available for free download here.