Friday, October 14, 2011

The Forward Path - 14 October 2011

I had another guest column published in the West Valley editions of the Arizona Republic on Wednesday.  This one focuses on the centennial of Glendale High School, which is the school where I spent my short-lived teaching career.  I wanted to do something to bring some attention to the school’s historical importance and vital role in the community, and so this seemed like a natural fit. 

This piece marks the first time I’ve actually written something expressly for the purpose of publication in a newspaper, and not for the blog.  As a result, you may notice that the voice is a little more restrained, and my naturally sarcastic tone is muted.  But I feel the tone suits the article, which really is a kind of letter of appreciation, as I find myself, more and more, admiring and celebrating the old, the weatherbeaten, the survivors.  Since I’m heading in that direction myself, I suppose you could look at it as an act of self-defense. 

Anyway, what follows is the original version of the column.  There’s a link after that to the version which appeared in the paper on Wednesday.  If you read them both, you will see that they are very similar.  The paper’s editors trimmed a few things here and there, either for space or because they figured out that I don’t always know what I’m talking about.  Either way, the paper’s version reads a little tighter, which apparently makes me sound better. 

By the way, the festivities continue today with the homecoming parade at 1 p.m., the time capsule deployment at four, tailgate party after that, and the homecoming game (vs. Flagstaff) at 6:30.  If you have the opportunity, come check it out.  Tell ‘em thunderstrokes sent you.  Go Cardinals!

Next week, Glendale High School celebrates its 100th birthday.  To mark the occasion, the school is brimming with festivities, including a carnival and bonfire on Wednesday, a car show on Thursday complete with entertainment from the school’s band, choir and theatre groups, and Friday’s homecoming parade, tailgate party, football game and alumni dance.  Former students, staff and administrators are coming from all over the Valley and beyond to join what promises to be a fun and memorable celebration.  As a former teacher at Glendale High School, I wanted to offer up a few reasons GHS’s 100th birthday isn’t just for the school, but for the whole community to commemorate.

For starters, Glendale High School is the oldest continually operating school in the state still on its original site.  Although it actually began in 1911 as a makeshift classroom carved out of unused storage space, within two years it moved to its new, permanent home at 62nd and Glendale Avenues.  From that location, Glendale Union High School (as it was then called) witnessed the growth of its namesake from a tiny town to Arizona’s fourth-largest city (now fifth, according to 2010 census results).  It stood watch as the farms, ranches and orchards around it gave way to urban businesses, subdivisions and apartment complexes.  The school that started with 28 students now serves more than 1,600 per year, part of a district that serves 15,000 students with nine schools.  But through all the growth-driven tumult of the decades, in a metropolis that seems allergic to its own past, Glendale High School has survived.  There are precious few places one can go in the Valley and say “That was here a hundred years ago.” Glendale High School is one of those places (Okay, technically it’s 98 years, but we can afford to be generous).  A century spent meeting the needs of the community is a feat worthy of celebration.    

In addition, GHS occupies a special place in the memories of many residents, especially amongst earlier generations. For almost forty years since its inception, Glendale Union High School was Glendale’s only high school.  That meant if you were from Glendale, and a high school graduate, you were a Cardinal.  This created a bond that unified the town, and after 1930, the city of Glendale.  It was a badge you wore, a part of your identity.  In sports, it was Glendale vs. Mesa, or Tempe, or Phoenix, and the rivalries were as much about the cities as the teams.  In the football playoffs of 1936, when Glendale beat Mesa to advance to the championship game against Phoenix Union, Mesa retaliated by insisting that Glendale forfeit its wins due to the questionable eligibility of one of its players.  Glendale defeated Phoenix, but was later forced to give up its title.  Glendale residents held a grudge against Mesa that lingered for years because of that incident.

Over the decades, Glendale High School has built up many special connections like these to the city. The average resident today may not know who the Heatwoles are, or the Renners, or the Sines, but they are families with deep roots in Glendale’s past.  They attended Glendale High School, and then went on to guide the future growth and development of the city.  Of course, as the city grew, more high schools were added, starting with Sunnyslope in 1950, and the intense affiliation with GHS gradually began to wane.  However, even now, with ten public high schools covered by three districts, GHS’s heritage and its proximity to the city’s center still sets it apart from the other schools. 

Of course, in order to meet the needs of dynamic growth, the school itself has grown dramatically over the years, adding on and tearing down and rebuilding to keep pace.  The only structure on the school’s grounds its first students would even recognize today is its auditorium: a quaint, Spanish-style edifice, and a wisely-preserved artifact of Glendale’s beginning.  The surrounding campus contains a conglomeration of buildings erected in the intervening years, from the Quonset hut-like arch of the school’s old gym to the square, functional design of the culinary arts building that opened last year.  When you walk the campus of Glendale High School, like most places that have been built primarily by accretion, the pieces don’t fit together perfectly.  Everything’s not uniform; there are changes between the buildings, some obvious, and others subtle. It’s in these discrepancies that you can see history.  It’s one of the things I like most about the school.  It reflects the changes of the city over time; it reflects us as a community.

Uniformity isn’t Glendale High School’s strength.  Diversity is, not only in buildings, but in its student population.  It seems like it has always been this way.  In 1911, it was the immigration of Japanese and Russians to cultivate the land that brought added diversity to Glendale; these days GHS serves a minority population that forms more than 80 percent of its student base.  When you walk the campus of Glendale High School, you see a wide variety of people:  size, shape, skin color, language, ethnicity.  As a former teacher there, I can tell you it serves as a helpful visual reminder that every student is different and unique, and each one has something special to offer.  What I appreciate about Glendale High School is that its students, regardless of how they arrived, or how long they’ve been here, are held to the same rigorous academic standards of performance as any other population at any other school.  That’s no easy task, for the school or the students, but for a century now, GHS has been educating those who come, which is the true mission of a school.  And if that’s not worth celebrating, I don’t know what is.

Those are a few of the things that I’ll be thinking about as the centennial festivities get underway.  I encourage the whole west valley community to come out, be a part of the moment and enjoy a truly historic occasion.  It doesn’t matter what high school you went to, or where your kids go, or where you want them to go when they’re ready for high school.  Set aside the old rivalries, put away the petty differences, and for a day or two become a Cardinal, and feel the pride the GHS family shares in belonging to Glendale’s first high school.  

Link to guest column in Arizona Republic's West Valley editions Wednesday, October 12th: 

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