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LOS ANGELES – Located in Watts, Edwin Markham Middle School aims to "provide students with a high quality education, to develop life learners and socially responsible global learners."

The school's belief is spelled out – literally – through their Eagles mascot: Equal opportunity, Accountability, Goals, Life-Long-Learners, Excellence, and Safety. 

Principal Yumi Kawasaki's work fostering that mission and belief in her role is why she was recently recognized as the Rams' ninth "pLAymaker" honoree of 2023. 

"It's really rare that educators get acknowledged for anything," Kawasaki said. "I think that sometimes we forget that we also sometimes need little pat on the back. I've never really done it for recognition. In fact, I think being a principal was an honor that was given to me, not something that I sought out, so anytime that I get acknowledged or thanked in any way, it's always a bonus."

The mission of providing Markham Middle School students with a high quality education is a personal one for Kawasaki. 

In her Principal's Message on the school's website, she said she immigrated to the United States when she was 2-years-old, and later attended Eastman Elementary School, Stevenson Jr. High and Hamilton High School Music Academy while growing up in East L.A. She is also a mother of two college students, and wants for her students what she would want for her own kids. She wants EMMS to be the "heart and gem" of the Watts community, and encourages others to become active members of the school. 

"I think a community like Watts has a lot of hidden gems," Kawasaki said. "The goal of a lot of the educators at Edwin Markham Middle School has been bringing out that talent in education, in sports and finding the gifts that students have, and really bringing that out and encouraging students to pursue whatever they want to do in life. And that foundation starts here with just somebody believing in them, and having the right people on campus to do that has been probably the biggest task."

One of the events that helps build that relationship is the Turkey Bowl, where the school creates two teams – students against staff. They go out to the field about an hour and a half before the end of the day on the last day before Thanksgiving week. Kawasaki said the game gets competitive and builds community. 

Students are supported in other ways, too, which is where the $5,000 donation from the Rams Foundation – which Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions matched – comes into play. 

"In educating students, it's not just about books and learning, but finding, what are some of the gaps that they have in their lives, to make sure that they're successful," Kawasaki said. "We want to make sure that our students come to school knowing that we understand that they have challenges, but that we're also here to find ways to support them in those challenges so that all they have to worry about is just coming to school, learning and thinking about what they're going to do 10 years from now."

Kawasaki defines inspire change through the motto and vision at EMMS. 

"Our motto here at school, our vision, is uplifting the community," Kawasaki said. "And so we hope that our students learn that that is being done to them, that everyone that works at our school is really here to inspire them to do well, and come back and lift up the people that were here after them so that the gift keeps giving." 

Meanwhile, Kawasaki said inspiring change in one's one community begins with setting the example. 

"Being a model for it," Kawasaki said. "I think if we live it, hopefully multiplying it one person at a time. Hopefully if you do one good deed to one person, hopefully that person will multiply it and then you have a whole movement. And I think Watts is an area that a lot of people put hands in, and we're the school that has a lot of love around them, the Rams being one of them."

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