county boards
Santa Clara COE initiative builds a culture of respect, beginning with introductions
Central to establishing a positive and supportive school climate is respect, and for the Santa Clara County Office of Education, respect goes by many different, unique names.
In partnership with the National Association for Bilingual Education, the Santa Clara COE is leading the national My Name, My Identity initiative. The goal is to bring awareness to the importance of respecting one’s name and identity in schools and build a respectful and caring culture that values diversity in school communities.

The initiative — which received a 2019 CSBA Golden Bell Award and the Apple for Excellence Award from California County Boards of Education — provides students, teachers and those in the community the opportunity to learn about other people’s cultures, history and identity by first learning the story behind students’ names.

Though pronouncing another person’s name properly may seem to be a small gesture, making that simple effort can have a major, positive impact on children.

“Bringing more awareness to the importance of respect for identity and culture not only validates the challenge as an obstacle in our schools and communities, but also celebrates the value and uniqueness each individual brings to our world,” Santa Clara County Superintendent Mary Ann Dewan said in a statement. “We are overwhelmingly humbled and honored to accept these awards for such a vital initiative.”

For many students, especially English learners and children who have recently immigrated to the United States, correct pronunciation of one’s name can be a signal of respect and help them feel more connected to their school. Yet in schools where teachers are rarely racially or ethnically representative of the students they teach, are unlikely to speak these students’ home languages or offer curriculum that reflects their culture, a mispronounced name is often the first of many slights English learners and immigrant children experience in their classrooms.

There are more than 60 languages spoken by over 274,000 K-12 students across Santa Clara County — a statistic county education officials have cited as evidence of the need to promote inclusiveness.

The My Name, My Identity initiative was launched at the first California Global Education Summit in 2016 in an effort to empower teachers to build relationships and community in their classrooms. To help create a culture of respect and inclusiveness in school communities, educators, parents, community members and students are asked to take the pledge to pronounce student names correctly and to honor their identities. That simple act encourages students and others to share their name stories, which has deepened students’ understanding of themselves and their cultures. Since its inception four years ago, the campaign has received over 7,000 individual pledges and over 1,000 district pledges. There was at least one pledge from 20 different countries.

As part of the pledge, individuals commit to showing respect to others by making the effort to pronounce students’ names correctly; being a model for students by sharing information and resources about showing respect to others’ names and cultural identities; spreading awareness about the importance of respecting others’ names and identities; sharing their own “my name” story on social media; and, just as importantly, being proud of who they are and celebrating everyone’s differences.

Through “my name” stories, students are able to more thoroughly explore the story behind their name, what identity means to them, how their name relates to their identity, and naming traditions around the world, among other topics.

The county has worked to further expand the initiative by developing numerous resources and lessons to aid in implementation and promoting “Getting to Know Our Names Week.”

Educational leaders and governance teams from around the county have since adopted a resolution to support the My Name, My Identity initiative, and recognize its positive impact on students and their local communities. Currently, 18 districts and charter schools in Santa Clara County have adopted the My Name, My Identity initiative local board resolution.