Murphy's Law

Year after year, Murphy school district officials watched their students die in a hail of violence. They decided to take matters into their own hands.

Many more come back for the midnight basketball program that runs on Friday nights. Kids say they come back to the school mostly because it's a place they feel safe.

"We feel at home here," says Daniel, a teen who was hanging out with about six other boys on a recent Thursday afternoon.

All of the boys say they know someone who has been shot or stabbed. They say there's too much violence, but they don't know what they can do about it.

Clay McAllester, principal at Kuban School.
Clay McAllester, principal at Kuban School.
Virginia Alcocer, principal at Garcia School.
Paolo Vescia
Virginia Alcocer, principal at Garcia School.

They also come to the gym because there is no other in the area. They wish there was a safe park with a teen center nearby.

So do Karessa Rodriguez, Victoria Hobein and Zayra Herrera, seventh-graders at Kuban School -- north of Buckeye Road, not far from Garcia.

They say after-school programs are fine for younger children, but they want something more for older kids.

The programs, says Victoria, "help out parents who have to work, so they can get you more things that you need. They also give us a chance to do homework."

Victoria spends most of her summer days at the Homes branch Boys and Girls Club at Sherman Street near 17th Avenue. But she prefers the after-school programs at Kuban during the school year.

"Right now we're playing volleyball," she says.

Karessa prefers acting. Last summer, she attended a daily arts workshop at Kuban, funded with a "Project Intervention" grant from the Governor's Office. She says she performed in a play.

Zayra likes the folk dance program that had been part of Kuban's summer arts activities.

All three of the girls are participating in the Phoenix Police Department's "Wake-Up" club at Kuban, a promising program in which seventh- and eighth-graders carry out school- and community-service projects, and try to raise funds for special events and field trips for themselves.

The problem, says Karessa, is that older kids -- eighth-graders -- "think they're too good to go to the after-school program. They think they're just for little kids."

Attendance numbers bear that out. The after-school participation rate at Murphy schools falls when it comes to older children, plummeting along with puberty.

Jemeille Ackourey, vice president of operations at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Phoenix, says schools and other organizations like hers struggle constantly with how to involve more older kids. That's especially true with children who show signs of gravitating toward the street.

"The kids we're trying to attract and need to attract are typically the kids that aren't doing well in school. But the last thing they want to do is spend any more time there. They want their own space. They want a place of their own."

Some of the boys and girls say they've gone to the Carl Hayden Community Youth Center, on Van Buren near 31st Avenue. But they'd prefer to have a closer center, with a greater variety of programs. All agree they'd like to have more of a hand in determining the programs and activities.

They also think there's plenty of vacant land on which to build one.

Eisele has bought three empty lots at 24th Avenue and Hadley where he hopes he can convince the city to build a pocket park. He and others say the city has been resisting the idea. But he doesn't intend to give up.

"These folks down here have no place to go. There's no swing set for kids. They don't have money for swing sets in their own yards. And the nearest park is too far away to be convenient."

Neighborhood leaders say city parks staff have told them it will be well into the next century before they can expect a park.

City councilman Doug Lingner, who has represented the Murphy area in District 7 since 1995, says a park is needed. But, he cautions, pocket parks can become gang turf.

Eisele's three lots may be too small for a park. "I'm not saying people wouldn't use that park, but the money is so scarce we've got to get the biggest bang for the buck," says Lingner.

But the biggest issue, he says, "is that the neighborhood has been so split up between housing and industrial that it's hard to find a good site."

Once a site is found, Buckeye Road and other major streets in the area often serve as barriers to kids. He wants the city to consider a park on the seven empty acres adjacent to Kuban School.

Whichever plan emerges won't be built without voter approval of the next bond package, which Lingner says is expected to be decided in October 2000.

Since 1993, after citizen activists finally got the city's attention, the city has pumped more than $7 million into 90 after-school programs. Recently, city officials have also identified gaps in youth services, largely on the west side. That's led to a commitment by the city council to add another $2.4 million for after-hours programs at 90 more school and park sites in the next three years.

Many educators and city officials acknowledge that both schools and cities are playing catch-up after years of neglect.

Jose Leyba credits the city for its recent investments. But he says that the patchwork of programs amounts "to Band-Aids on the problem -- a lot of short-term fixes. The after-school programs make the difference for some kids. But other children need much more. We need family programs. And we just don't have the resources for those."

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