John Rolfe Middle School has a new mascot: the jaguars.
Formerly the “Indians,” two Rolfe students undertook an effort to change the mascot two years ago. Their project came to fruition on Thursday as they announced the new name at a Henrico School Board meeting.
Kyra Lambert and Makenzie Nelson, who were seventh graders in 2020, were best friends at Rolfe Middle School. They were assigned a project to address something that they wanted to change at their school. They picked the topic of the school’s mascot. The students felt strongly about their idea, and took it to the school’s principal, Debbie George.
“We know as young, Black women, that we don’t have much representation or being taken seriously or being respected,” Lambert told the Citizen. “So when we found out that the mascot of our school and the name of our school was not very inclusive, and disrespectful, and hurting a specific group of people, we wanted to be the voice that they didn’t have in the situation.”
The mascot was especially offensive, Smith said, because there are not many Native American students at the school. According to state data, 0.3% of the student population is described as American Indian.
The students conducted a survey among students at the school to learn if their classmates agreed that the “Indians” mascot was inappropriate, and their classmates overwhelmingly agreed.
George supported the students’ effort from the beginning, and helped them present to the Henrico School Board in 2020. George said the students came into her office “like lawyers.”
“They came in well-armed like it was a business meeting,” George said. “They won me over, they really did. I knew this wasn’t something fleeting. I knew that this was something that they were dedicated to, that they were willing to do the work to make it happen.”
To find a new mascot to represent the school, Nelson and Lambert deferred to the community. They met with members of a local church in Charles City to gain input there from the Native American community in Charles City. They also conducted another survey among students at the school.
The “Indians” mascot had been in place since the school opened in 1979.
At the Henrico School Board meeting Thursday, the students announced the new mascot to board members. Nelson is now a student at Henrico High School and Lambert is a student at Varina High School.
“Jaguars” was picked because it symbolizes strength, courage, valor, integrity and intellect, George said.
“I think the biggest thing that I saw was your patience, commitment and passion for change, and you were not going to give up,” School Board member Alicia Atkins said at Thursday’s meeting. “It’s going to outlast you, this change that you will have had.”
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