By Nozipo Wobogo
East Palo Alto Today
Posted on March 6, 2011
Photo by Nozipo Wobogo
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A large audience gathered for the groundbreaking of East Palo Alto’s first new public high school campus in 40 years. The new school will be run by the Aspire schools and will be built as the new East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy (EPAPA) High School Campus.
The various stakeholders of the project who were present to witness the momentous occasion included students, teachers, administrators, counselors and parents from EPAPA as well as their partners; builders, funders, government officials and the community-at-large. Appropriately, the ceremonial groundbreaking was held at the construction site at 1039 Garden Street.
Unlike the current East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy, which is located off of Bay Road between Clarke and Pulgas in a converted industrial building without a recreational area, the new facility will feature a state-of-the-art gymnasium, science labs and an outdoor recreational space. The project will be completed by the fall and is located only a few blocks away from the present location.
“I’m always pleased to see Aspire doing things. This educational environment will help students succeed,” said East Palo Alto City Councilmember Ruben Abrica.
Larry Moody, who just finished his term as a member of the Ravenswood City School District’s Board of Trustees, said, “It’s exciting and a great demonstration of what the community can do. The school is not too large, students can walk to it, and parents are engaged. We needed teachers who get results and who raise the bar.”
In explaining the history of the Aspire school in East Palo Alto, Moody said, “Some years ago, East Palo Alto parents and concerned residents, who wanted their children to be able to bypass some of the problems with educational issues encountered in the local school district at that time, came together.”
He said that the parents knew that academic success for the children would be difficult without strong achievement oriented programs beginning in kindergarten, “so they started the East Palo Alto Charter School (EPACS).” Eventually, EPACS became a part of the Aspire Public schools network and in 2006, EPAPA was born with a 5-year charter from Sequoia Union High School District (SUHSD).
Presently the EPAPA is one of 30 schools run by Aspire Public Schools. a non-profit organization which operates charter schools in the state of California. The schools have a reputation of success at getting students to maintain high academic levels with their primary goal being “College for Certain.”
EPAPA now serves approximately 150 students in grades 9-12, however, according to the school’s principal Thomas Madson, “The Garden Street campus will be able to accommodate almost three times that number when we are fully enrolled.”
When it was pointed out how this would still be significantly less than some larger comprehensive high schools with student bodies of one thousand or more, Madson said, “I need to know the names of every student at my school. The smaller-sized institution is our model; it’s more transformative. A student can get lost at a school with 1,200 kids. We have help from our partners like College Track, the Lords Gym and others. We are blessed to have the support of the community,” he said.
In the mid-seventies, Ravenswood High School closed. Over time, the desire for a local high school did not diminish. Cammie Vail, Executive Director of the Palo Alto Community Fund said, “I remember when they closed Ravenswood High School. I’m glad to see a high school returning to the community.” Betsy Gifford, a donor to the project said, “I haven’t enough good words for this effort.” Gifford’s son serves on the board of EPACS.
Cynthia Medina, a student at EPAPA exclaimed, “It’s about time!” Neymi Madrigal said, “It’s exciting even though I won’t be here.” Medina and Madrigal will both graduate before the new facility is completed. However, another student at the school Angelica Garcia will still be around and able to enjoy the new school. “I’m thrilled and I can’t wait,” she said.
Yvette Mitchell, who was also at the groundbreaking said, “I didn’t appreciated Ravenswood when it was open. After they closed it, I did. I have three children who will be attending EPAPA next year.” Mitchell’s mother, Alberta Mitchell added, “I think it’s great. This school offers great academics and they start the students to looking at college early, like eighth grade.”
The new school’s contractors Gary Blackwell and Brad Kettelle attended the groundbreaking and they stated, “We build these facilities all over. We have them going up in Los Angeles, Oakland and Stockton. We are very busy.”
The facilities, to which they referred, are not cheap. The new East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy High School Campus will cost $13 million. Money from SUHSD, the Charles & Helen Schwab Foundation, private donors and Aspire –issued bonds will all comprise a percentage of the total.
Elisa Romero, a college counselor for EPAPA said, “I grew up in East Palo Alto. I wish I could have had this type of school then.”
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