Middle School Renaming
Students Drive Process to Rename PUMS
A deep commitment to reflecting the school's core values of diversity, inclusion, and respect for all is at the foundation of the Princeton Unified Middle School's (PUMS) process to determine its new name.
This project, powered by the imaginations, opinions, and research skills of students, is currently in its first phase—considering the namesake contenders identified by members of teacher Katie Dineen's History One class at Princeton High School.
Should it be a celebrated figure who has had a positive impact on the entire nation, like Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis, or abolitionist Joseph Bloomfield, the fourth governor of New Jersey? Or a distinguished Princetonian, like slave-turned educator Betsey Stockton, sixth-generation historian and civic leader Shirley Satterfield, or Albert Hinds, who helped Princeton transform from a segregated to an inclusive society over his 104 years as a citizen of the town? Perhaps it should be someone of both national and local renown—scientist Albert Einstein, entertainer and activist Paul Robeson, or former first lady Michelle Obama. Or maybe the school shouldn’t carry the name of an individual, because its values are embodied by the students, teachers, and administrators who learn and work there rather than the achievements and reputation of any one person, no matter how accomplished. Each student created a presentation in support of their preferred outcomes.
A Name That Reflects Our Values
The project stems from a 2020 decision to remove the name John Witherspoon, a former slaveholder, from the school. The Board of Education approved PUMS as a temporary name and charged the district with determining a new name that is aligned with the school's values by June 2021.
The many possibilities were explored by the students during a November 20 webinar panel discussion. Each student advocated for his or her candidate, offering the reasoning behind their choices and discussing the history and motives for renaming the school.
Panelists shared their thoughts about the significance of the names and the criteria for re-naming the school, agreeing that all the possibilities were equally worthy, and that they had learned a great deal about the importance of conducting original research using multiple sources and varying perspectives instead of accepting a single-source version of an event or person. They also learned a great deal about the town of Princeton, as most had been unaware of its segregated past and noted that they had been deeply impressed by learning about its evolution to the diverse community it is today.
Jason Burr, principal of PUMS, commended the students for both their work and the quality of their discussion. "What a great example of politely experiencing a dialogue together and being able to agree, and disagree, with one another in a manner that is civil."
The PHS students' presentations will be a starting point for engaging middle school students, and eventually younger students and the community at large, in the renaming process.
School library media specialist Jennifer Bigioni, who worked closely with the students as they conducted their research, is enthusiastic about their efforts and insights. "Our future is bright because of you guys," she said. -- Patricia Coen
November 20, 2020
This fall, the first phase of a district-wide student-led initiative to rename Princeton Unified Middle School (formerly John Witherspoon Middle School) was carried out at Princeton High School. In this phase of the project, students in US History I classes conducted research projects to consider “who or what” the new name of their middle school should honor, considering this question within and across its historical and modern contexts.
This Friday, November 20, student researchers will participate in a panel discussionmoderated by Princeton High School club leaders and alumni who have demonstrated interest in ensuring that students' work is at the heart of the efforts to find a new name for the middle school.This event will be used to initiate a dialogue about the renaming process andpass the baton to students at the middle school.
The first segment of Friday's webinar will be a moderated discussion; panelists will consider the removal of John Witherspoon's name from the Middle School, the history and legacy of the Witherspoon school in Princeton,the process through which they arrivedat their own suggestions, andthe criteria by which a new name should be selected. In the second segment of this webinar, panelists will respond to questions from featured guests and audience members.
Meet our panelists
- Shane Spring, Class of 2019
- Yingying Zhao, Class of 2020
- Hanako Moulton, GSA
- Ariella Scheer, Jewish Club
- Yash Roy, Student Liaison to the Board of Education
- Joycelyn Brobbey, MSAN/PULSE
- Krelyn Zacarias, Peer Group
Panelists and Their Projects:
- Theo Andre-Hessig, Michelle Obama MS
- Jeremiah Bagner, Joseph Bloomfield MS
- Theo Balavione, Princeton Junior High School
- Allegra Brennan, Shirley Satterfield MS
- Anja Gatzke, Betsey Stockton MS
- Lauren Girouard, Betsey Stockton MS
- Sara Hu, Princeton Unified Middle School
- Shaila Iyer, Albert Hinds MS
- Helene Kraft, John Lewis MS
- Yugandhara Luthra, Albert Einstein MS
- Eleanor Nayden, RBG MS
- Jahan Owusu, a commentary on the process: in favor
- Ellie van der Schaar, Paul Robeson MS
November 17, 2020
Process to Engage Students and Community to Be Presented at Tonight's Board of Education Meeting
A New Name for the Middle School
At tonight’s 7:30 PM Board of Education meeting, Princeton Unified Middle School Principal Jason Burr will brief the board on teachers’ plans to engage students academically with the renaming of the school, as well as plans to engage the community in the project.
The district plans feature Princeton High School students researching names suggested during community meetings, by alumni, and through the Princeton Historical Society.
Students will advocate for the names they have researched in formal discussions and debates and will present their work via a November 20 webinar to students at the middle school. Middle school students then will discuss options in the context of other recent naming controversies across the country. Working in teams, they will develop arguments in favor of naming the school after a specific individual, maintaining a nonspecific name such as Princeton Unified, or reverting to a version of the school’s historic name, John Witherspoon Middle School. Teams will prepare documentary slideshows presenting their reasoning first to classmates and later to future middle schoolers, now in the fifth grade. Six teams then will be selected to present their arguments to the middle school student body. Students will vote, creating a list of finalists to be presented during a February Zoom meeting to the community at large.
Illustrative examples of student research projects will be posted on a public website, along with a list of names suggested to date. Members of the community are invited to share their further suggestions for a permanent name via an online form.
In September, the district created a committee composed of community members, alumni, and educators to guide the process of selecting a new name and to make the process as inclusive and educationally meaningful as possible.
In public discussions in August and September, community members suggested a wide variety of possible names. The school’s previous name honored a signer of the Declaration of Independence who was also the sixth president of Princeton University. However, John Witherspoon owned slaves, and that was the impetus for a petition last summer seeking the name change, which garnered over 1,500 signatures. Princeton Unified Middle School was chosen by the board as a temporary name pending a final decision in June 2021.
District-Wide Student-Led Initiative
This fall, the first part of a district-wide student-led initiative to rename Princeton Unified Middle School was carried out at Princeton High School. Students in US History I classes conducted research projects to consider “who or what” the new name of Princeton Unified Middle School should honor, and considered this question within and across its historical and modern contexts.
On Friday, November 17, a group of US History students will participate in a panel discussion moderated by student leaders and alumni to initiate the first phase of a dialogue about the renaming process. Panelists will include members of PHS Clubs who have demonstrated interest in ensuring that students' work is at the heart of the efforts to find a new name for the middle school. The event will be used as a prototype for a similar event hosted by students at the middle school.
The first segment of Friday's webinar will be a moderated discussion. Panelists will consider the removal of John Witherspoon's name from the middle school, the history and legacy of the Witherspoon school in Princeton, the process through which they arrived at their own suggestions, and the criteria by which a new name should be selected. In the second segment of this webinar, panelists will respond to audience questions. There are plans for a few guests and guest panelists as well.
Participate in Naming
John Lewis Middle School
Betsy Stockton Middle School
Paul Robeson Middle School
Silvia Dubois Middle School
Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Nation Middle School
Powhatan Renape Nation Middle School
Shirley Satterfield Middle School
Albert Einstein Middle School
Michelle Obama Middle School
John Witherspoon Middle School
Ramapough Lenape Indian Middle School
Nation (Ramapugh Mountain Indians)
Princeton Unified Middle School
Arthur Tappan Middle School
Ruth Bader Ginsburg Middle School
Dr. Cornell West Middle School
Joseph Bloomfield Middle School
Albert Hinds Middle School
Student Projects and Videos