Signage for the new elementary school named after Flora Arca Mata located along Alexandria Place in Stockton, California. | Photo courtesy of the Stockton Unified School District

Flora Arca Mata Elementary School honors the first Fil-Am teacher in California history

THE closure of school campuses due to the pandemic has complicated the lives of students across California, but that doesn’t mean learning and inspiration have to stop.

As such, on Tuesday, Sept. 22, a new elementary school in Stockton, California named after Flora Arca Mata, a pioneering Filipina American teacher of the 20th century, was opened in a move to honor California’s diverse history in education.

Flora Arca Mata | Photo courtesy of Stockton Unified School District

Mata was believed to be the first Filipino American public school teacher in the state of California, as previously reported in the Asian Journal.

On Tuesday, Stockton Unified School District (SUSD) officials and the family of Mata — who passed away in 2013 at the age of 95 — held a social distancing-friendly ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new K-8 school located along Alexandria Place. The event was also live-streamed by the school district.

“This is going to be a great learning institution,” Flora Arca Mata Elementary School principal Henry Phillips said at the ceremony inside the school’s multipurpose room. “Our board of trustees has given us an excellent start by naming this site after an exemplary educator.”

The school currently has 420 enrolled students who are distance learning. The $38.2 million school is a state-of-the-art facility that can accommodate 540 students.

As previously reported in the Asian Journal, the campaign to name the new school after one of the state’s most prolific teachers began in 2019 when the Fil-Am organization Little Manila Rising asserted Mata’s indelible influence on public education in Stockton and California as a whole.

Aaron Mata, an educator and principal at Health Careers Academy in the Stockton Unified School District, led the ribbon cutting on Tuesday, Sept. 22 for the school named after his late grandmother. | Photo courtesy of the Stockton Unified School District

The campaign garnered massive support from the district which announced in December 2019 that it would officially name the new school after Mata.

“I feel she was a very humble person and she would probably stand back a bit, [but] I think she would be very happy about pushing on education and making sure that students and teachers and everybody stayed dedicated to the future of our community,” Aaron Mata, the late educator’s grandson who is also an educator and principal at Health Careers Academy in the SUSD, said in his remarks on Tuesday.

The grandson shared that even after her retirement, Mata was still passionate about public education, requesting family members to drive her to school so she can assist teachers and students.

Flora Arca Mata’s family attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the elementary school named in her honor on Tuesday, Sept. 22. | Photo courtesy of the Stockton Unified School District

“She had a very clear vision of what education can do and she was deeply passionate about the teaching profession for many years. When I reflect back on it, I can see how dedicated she was,” he said.

Stockton was previously home to the largest Filipino population outside the Philippines, which highlights the significance of the district’s choice to name the school after Mata. Mata was born in Hawaii in 1917 and as a child, her family relocated to Stockton where she attended local schools.

After earning a teaching degree at UCLA — of which she was also the first Filipino American to graduate — she began her long career of teaching in post-WWII California. Her service spanned more than three decades until she retired at 80 years old.

Mata was known to have advocated for the right to education for communities of color and equal opportunity for ethnic minorities to pursue prestigious careers. She reportedly challenged a school dean who told her that being a woman of color would hinder her ability to teach.

She told the school dean, “Why is it that America would educate the minority and not give them an opportunity to use this education? Why is it that they need a college education to be dishwashers?”

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