Even today, many Arcadia students have nicer cars than their teachers. Some joker occasionally runs through the student parking lot, slapping each car to see how many alarms will go off.

"When I came here, in my opinion, it was like [Beverly Hills] 90210," says Nate Curtis, a junior who moved to the Valley last year from Las Vegas.

Curtis came from a tough school, where metal detectors were employed to keep weapons off campus. He couldn't believe how many students crowded around to watch the big fight at Arcadia. "When there were fights at my [old] school, nobody watched. They went the other way," he says. Arcadia High administrators have grudgingly acknowledged that times are changing. By the end of the 92-93 school year, they had increased on-campus security to include three full-time aides, two part-time aides and an off-duty Phoenix police officer who was on campus three hours per day. All carry two-way radios.

This September, a Phoenix police officer will be assigned to Arcadia full-time. One old-timer laughs and remembers that Phoenix police had to fight with administrators and parents to get even a part-time school-resource officer on campus at Arcadia in the early 80s. Back then Arcadia's security staff consisted of a middle-aged woman who patrolled the cafeteria and snack bar, chastising kids for throwing food, and a slow-moving gentleman who made sure students didn't park in spaces reserved for teachers.

By far the most significant change at Arcadia High has been the emergence of an immigrant-Mexican population, a group of students divided from the traditional Arcadia student by class, culture and language. In the past five years, the Hispanic population at the school has doubled. A classroom in which students once took typing classes now serves as the lab for ESL, English as a second language. For the children of immigrants, the emphasis on education can be, well, foreign.

"Education is not a priority. . . . Surviving is a priority," says Alma Estafano, who works for EMPACT, a social-service agency that has an office in the Holiday Park neighborhood, where many of Arcadia High's newest students live.

The cluster of small houses and apartment buildings at 68th Street and Thomas, just inside the Scottsdale city limits, was once favored by retired pro baseball players who were nostalgic for the Valley after many seasons of spring training. But today, Holiday Park is known as "Little Mexico." Rent is cheap, by Scottsdale standards--$275 for a studio, $300 for a one-bedroom apartment. Although discouraged by police and landlords, families often cram nine people into an apartment. It's the only way they can afford to pay the rent.

The neighborhood is relatively safe, clean and friendly. More important, it is close to Scottsdale's resorts and restaurants, which offer a sizable pool of jobs for unskilled workers.

Many have come to Holiday Park directly from Mexico, particularly from La Piedad, a small city in the state of Michoacn, northwest of Mexico City. Arcadia High School is well-known and respected in La Piedad, a poor, rural community in the mountainous heart of Mexico.

For the record, Scottsdale's official sister cities are Alamos in Sonora, Mexico, and Cairns in Queensland, Australia.

Practically speaking, however, Scottsdale's sister city is La Piedad, which means "pity" or "suffering" in English.

@body:From the doorway of Room 207 at Arcadia High School, Camelback Mountain looms picture-postcard pretty; mansions balance on the purplish rock.

Inside Room 207, the ESL lab, is another world. Mexican music plays on a small stereo. Colleen Kane opens her classroom door at 7 a.m. so the kids who have been dropped off early by the school bus have a place to hang out before the bell rings at 7:45. A girl carries in a convenience-store breakfast of chocolate-covered doughnuts and a carton of milk, settling herself at a table and chatting with her friends in Spanish.

The classroom walls are decorated with Mexican rugs and bright, instructional posters. Reports written by class members hang on a bulletin board. The students were asked to write about their native countries. There's an essay about Poland and one about China; the rest are about Mexico. At 7:45, the 17 students pull out books and notebooks; this period is reserved for individual teacher attention. Kane moves from student to student--practicing for a vocabulary quiz, proofreading a grammar assignment, helping with a math equation.

When the bell signals the end of first hour, the stereo is back on before the prerecorded chimes have finished echoing. The kids will hang out for a few more minutes, then rush off to second hour.

Kane chatters and jokes with the kids in a mixture of English and Spanish, then settles at a classroom desk for a few moments. With bright, blue eyes and white-blond hair, one would hardly imagine that Kane and these kids would be kindred spirits.

Perhaps the kids respect her because she respects them. Kane has studied Spanish extensively; she lived in Latin America for many years. She understands the Mexican culture, she says, and is able to communicate about topics beyond algebra and history.

Last year was Kane's first as an ESL teacher at Arcadia. Kane's predecessor was trained in German, not in Spanish. It's only been two years since the ESL lab was housed in a classroom across campus from the main academic building. Now the ESL students attend class in the same building with the rest of the student body.

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