ARCADIA'S CLASH OF '93WHEN DIVERSITY CONFRONTS GENTILITY, SCHOOLS ARE ON THE FRONT LINES
The skies were heavy with rain, and it was just starting to sprinkle as hundreds of students spilled into the Arcadia High School parking lot. It's a place normally reserved for students' vehicles; Acuras, Cherokees and the occasional Jaguar are not uncommon.
That last Friday of March, however, the students were not admiring cars. Kids pushed their way to the front of the crowd, trying to catch a glimpse as two boys--one Hispanic, the other white--shoved each other. Punches and epithets were thrown, thunder crackled, rain poured down. "Literally, everything broke loose," recalls one combatant.
The olive-tree-lined campus of Arcadia--nucleus of the secure and genteel neighborhood of the same name--was having a street fight.
Despite the downpour, the action kept moving the way sparks jump across dry brush--groups of kids punching and shoving and being pulled apart. Just as one skirmish would break up, another would begin a few feet away.
By the time the 15 police cars reached the scene, most of the fighting had dissipated. A group of kids was rounded up and taken to the school office; 21 would later be suspended for fighting.
A dispute over a girl precipitated the melee. But the tension that made the school ripe for violence had been building for some time. Students knew there was going to be a big brawl. No one knew where or when, but it was bound to happen.
Informal alliances had been forged. It boiled down to the jocks--primarily white athletes whose parents are well-to-do--versus the school's melting pot: The Spanish-speaking children of Mexican immigrants had pledged to join forces with the so-called "middle group," made up of black, white and Mexican-American nonathletes, the products of middle-class homes. Animosity between the middle group and the jocks had festered since the students had been in middle school. They were waiting for an excuse to clash.
By most contemporary standards, the rumble didn't amount to much. Nobody was seriously hurt. There were no drive-by shootings. Many public-school principals would be pleased if things got no worse than midday fisticuffs in the parking lot.
But Arcadia isn't like most schools, and the fight was a symptom that area residents had dreaded.
Three days after the brawl, parents crowded into the Arcadia library, demanding an explanation. Was the fight racially motivated? Were there gangs involved? Was the campus safe?
One white woman stood up and asked where "these kids" had come from, and what "they're doing here." She was referring to the Spanish-speaking students.
Her political incorrectness earned the woman a good shushing. But the question nobody wanted to utter had been asked. With it came the awful realization that Arcadia--the school and the neighborhood--probably would not be spared the problems gripping other urban neighborhoods and schools.
They'd heard how bad things were for teenagers trapped in blackboard jungles teeming with drugs, gangs and danger. They wondered whether the seeds of such turmoil had been sowed in their soil.
@body:Webster's Dictionary defines "arcadia" as "any place of rural peace and simplicity."
That's what the developers envisioned in 1919, when they proclaimed the discovery of an area northeast of Phoenix--nestled against what would later be named Camelback Mountain--that was 300 feet higher than Phoenix, and said to be an average of 28 degrees warmer in winter and 16 degrees cooler in summer.
They planted citrus trees and sold 12-acre lots. For three generations, Arcadia held fast to its founders' vision, maintaining a reputation as a peaceful residential area--home to an exclusive crowd of white professionals and their families, bereft of urban blight.
Susan Goldsmith has lived in Arcadia for ten years. She serves on the board of Scottsdale Unified School District, which includes Arcadia High School, although the school is physically located in Phoenix, on Indian School Road.
In the past three years, Goldsmith has noticed changes in her neighborhood. More people are renting rather than buying homes. She sees labels in Spanish on items at Dale's, the grocery store at 56th Street and Thomas. Down the street, the Target store at 38th Street and Thomas now features a line of Spanish-language greeting cards. Goldsmith hears Mexican music blasting from car stereos when she drives down Indian School and Thomas roads. And she senses her neighbors' discomfort.
"I'm not hearing . . . what we'd classically call racism or prejudice," Goldsmith says. "More people are locking their doors than used to. . . . I've heard a few people say, 'Oh, I don't know, I think I might go to a different grocery store.' People are not very open, generally, about what it is that they're seeing or feeling."
Nowhere are the changes more evident than at the public schools, where kids from tony Lafayette Boulevard ranch homes have been thrown together with middle-class or Mexican-immigrant kids who live in apartments and smaller houses south of Indian School Road.
Few will speak openly, but some parents are considering moving farther north or pulling their kids out of the public schools. An official at Phoenix Country Day School, an exclusive Paradise Valley private school, says inquiries from Arcadia have almost doubled in the past two years.
That's unusual. For years influential Valley residents have eschewed private schools for their children in favor of their neighborhood public high school, Arcadia. Names such as Driggs, Kyl and Goldwater have graced the rolls. Arcadia High has long been considered a quasi-prep school--a place, kids quipped, where Perrier spurted from drinking fountains and students arrived at school in limousines.
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.
At Arcadia, ESL students can sign up with Kane for as many as three of their six daily class periods; they are "mainstreamed" into English-speaking classes for the rest of the day. And while Scottsdale Unified School District offers workshops designed to prepare non-ESL teachers to deal with the ESL population, there is no mandatory training.
Not all of Kane's colleagues share her affection for these students. When she hears that a gringa reporter plans to spend a morning in the ESL classroom, Bryce McKinney-Wain rolls her eyes dramatically and chuckles. "Good luck," she says. McKinney-Wain has taught English at Arcadia for almost ten years. Just the other day, she says, a white student asked her, "Why do the Mexicans call themselves 'Wetback Power' when they don't want us to call them wetbacks?" The teacher laughs and shakes her head--obviously, she doesn't know, either--then tries to imitate gang hand signs.
ESL students say the teachers have difficulty bridging the cultural, economic and linguistic barriers. One sophomore ESL student says that when she explained to a teacher that she couldn't attend a Saturday-morning review session because she had a job, the teacher told her to skip work.
In the wake of the March melee, Arcadia High administrators, teachers and students made zealous attempts to include Spanish-speaking students. The daily announcements were read in both English and Spanish. Colleen Kane borrowed a school van and brought a group of Hispanic mothers from Holiday Park to a parent forum. The student council agreed to allow the ESL students to send a representative to their meetings next year. Will it make any difference? Not much, according to sophomore Chris James. When the school sponsored a "cultural diversity" day, he says, "a lot of students just took it as a joke, a way to get shortened classes, get out of stuff. It was a good idea, but you've gotta consider that a lot of the students just don't really care." One need only walk onto campus between classes or at lunch to see how clearly and willfully Arcadia students segregate themselves. Every day during lunch, any student who wants to can shoot baskets in the gym. Every day the kids separate: whites inside the gym, Hispanics outside. It's an unspoken, unchallenged rule.
One Hispanic student, who requested anonymity, says that's just the way it is and always will be.
"I hang with my crowd," he says. "The other--the white people hang with their crowd. So what's the problem? You guys want us to be mixed, you know. There's no way, because high society doesn't hang around with the minorities."
@body:On a recent Saturday morning, members of the Arcadia/Camelback Mountain Homeowners' Association gathered to discuss the delicate condition of their aging grapefruit trees and the increasing traffic on Camelback Road. But their biggest concern--the one that the meeting's organizers saved for last on the agenda--was the schools.
School-board member Susan Goldsmith assured the Bermuda-shorts-clad group that the violence at Arcadia was under control and that overcrowding at Arcadia High's two feeder elementary schools--Hopi serves the northern section of the attendance area; Tavan serves the southern section--will be alleviated.
Because the immigrant population has mainly settled in the southern portion of the Arcadia neighborhood, the increase in Spanish-speaking students has been far greater at Tavan Elementary School.
In the past decade, the ESL population at Tavan has grown from one child to almost 200 children. More than 400 of the school's 1,000 students participate in a government-subsidized lunch program. "That is a real change for us," says Tavan principal Bruce Burns.
It's not a welcome change for parents like Denise Caudle. When Caudle moved to Arcadia ten years ago, it was a dream come true. "Now," she says, "we'll do anything to not live there."
Caudle and some other Tavan parents argue that because of the presence of Spanish-speaking students, their children are not receiving adequate attention in the classroom. "We just have too many of these special-needs kids on the campus," she says.
The parents of the ESL kids don't participate in school-sponsored activities, according to Caudle. They don't join the PTA or donate funds to supplement programs. "One-third of our population is noncontributory," she says.
Tempers flared at a curriculum meeting in March, when the disgruntled white parents voiced their opposition to a "multicultural" teaching program proposed by ESL teachers and complained generally about the presence of ESL students.
Hispanic parents weren't represented at that meeting. Sandra Lozano, a bilingual parent who also works at Tavan, says the immigrants "really do like Tavan a lot. It's just that since a lot of them don't speak English, they feel intimidated and they don't really come out." Lozano hopes to serve as a liaison between the Spanish-speaking parents and the rest of the Tavan community.
Herve Lemire, one of Tavan's ESL teachers, prepared a "response paper" after the heated meeting. Lemire wrote, "I am saddened that . . . a group of good people would still hold fast to a form of social behavior that so blatantly shouts of bigotry, self-interest and polite hate for Mexican immigrants and other non-English-speaking immigrants."
Furious, Caudle and the other parents countered that they aren't bigoted--they just want other schools to carry their fair share of the "burden." Carol Gray, who says her English-speaking son has flourished in Lemire's class, was shocked. "It'd be just the same if they stood up in a white hood," Gray says. "I'm sorry, these are children, not burdens. . . . They deserve an education, no matter what color their skin is." Caudle and her group argue that the majority of the ESL students lives in Holiday Park, at the farthest edge of Tavan's attendance area. They would like to see those students sent to another elementary school. That's not likely to happen. "If we were to focus on the area where most of the ESL students come from and [try] to move those kids, that would just be, first of all, morally wrong and, second of all, probably legally wrong," says Goldsmith. "We'd be in trouble."
District officials say they are looking at other ways to alleviate Tavan's overcrowding. Denise Caudle says it may be too late for some parents. "[White] people are selling their houses and just getting out," she says. The Caudles can't move immediately, because they're in the middle of a $30,000 home renovation.
Caudle has heard that she and the other disgruntled parents will be invited to join a task force designed to address Tavan's challenges. She's not interested.
"All we want is out," Caudle says.
Her two children have been reassigned to Hopi, where there is no ESL program and where fewer than 5 percent of the students eats lunch for free. The only drawback: Hopi is overcrowded. There's a waiting list of 150 kids.
That isn't stopping white flight from Tavan.
Caudle, with a rueful chuckle, concludes, "Most of the parents that are leaving [Tavan] are the . . . ones that support the school financially. I'm sad for Tavan. I feel bad for them." Incredibly, the Caudle kids will be joined next year at Hopi by the kids of every parent on Tavan's PTA board--both the current officers and those who have been elected to serve next year. In the last days of May, Tavan scurried to elect a whole new PTA board.
Those parents, who prevailed upon administrators to approve transfers for their kids, include Betsy Wolf, who has only lived in Arcadia for a year. She didn't realize how large the ESL population at Tavan was until her son began school. She insists that she will miss the diversity at Tavan, but says she's willing to trade it for more attention for her second-grade son.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.
- As Arpaio's Trial Approaches, More MCSO Shenanigans Pop Out of the Woodwork
- Hardcore Pot Activists Want Marijuana Legalized in Arizona Under Their Terms — or Not...
- More Storms May Hit the Valley as Thousands Continue to Reel From Monday’s Microburst