Arizona Charter Schools Often Ignore Latino Students and English-Language Learners
Twenty years ago, Arizona became the second state in the nation to allow charter schools to operate in the public education system. In honor of the anniversary, New Times is taking a hard look at charters in Arizona. The first story in the ongoing series examined how charter schools — both nationally and in Arizona — "push out" kids with disabilities ("The New Segregation," May 15, Amy Silverman). Today, we explore how charters in Arizona tend to operate in white, affluent neighborhoods, leaving out Latino students from poor areas. — Amy Silverman
Arizona charter schools have largely ignored Latino students and English-language learners from poor communities.
Once Norma Diaz's alarm clock blares shortly before 6 a.m., her modest South Phoenix home turns into a madhouse.
She cracks open her eyes, peels off her blankets, and calls out to her seven sons to wake up and get ready for school. Within minutes, the boys, ages 6 to 18, are vying for the single bathroom in the tidy home.
The sounds of morning fill the flat-roofed stucco house — car doors opening and slamming, engines firing up — as the neighborhood awakens. The homes are weathered, and most of the front yards are sparsely landscaped, but even the few patches of grass are neatly trimmed.
The boys brush their teeth and comb their hair as Mom calls out, asking if they're almost ready. Roberto, Norma's husband, is prepping for a long, hard day of landscaping.
Norma juggles making breakfast with packing her husband's lunch and helping the younger boys get dressed. Some days it seems impossible. If they're running short on time, Norma tells her youngest son that breakfast is going to have to wait a few minutes until his brothers are dropped off at school. The cherub-faced 3-year-old, Jesus, doesn't seem to mind.
Belts? Check. Ties? Check. Shirts tucked in? Check. Everyone's homework signed and accounted for? Check and check. They're ready to fly out the door.
That's when things get really complicated, as Norma and Roberto Diaz struggle to deliver six kids to four different school campuses.
Three of the children attend the Phoenix Collegiate Academy, a charter school about three miles away. Norma or Roberto drive Jose, 17, and Juan, 15, to the Academy's high school campus, and Alejandro, 13, to its middle school campus.
The oldest, Francisco, 18, attends South Mountain High School, and the two younger boys, Luis, 8, and Angel, 6, go to C.J. Jorgensen School in the Roosevelt Elementary School District — within walking distance.
Norma is convinced the daily sacrifice of shuttling her children to and from different campuses is worth it and will give them a greater chance of graduating from college. With her husband still at work, she has to make sure they finish their homework so they don't fall behind Phoenix Collegiate Academy's rigorous academic program.
When her sons were younger, that sometimes meant walking across the street to ask a neighbor to explain a homework assignment written in English. Now, she says, the older children can translate. In fact, she laments that her sons are losing their Spanish fluency.
When Phoenix Collegiate Academy expands next year to serve second- and third-grade students, Norma will be poised to transfer her youngest sons from Jorgensen to the Academy.
She wants all her sons to have better opportunities than she did.
"I got a scholarship from my elementary school in Mexico so I could keep studying past sixth grade. I was so excited. I wanted to go. But my dad said no," she says in Spanish, lowering her voice and eyes. "He said that women are supposed to stay at home, and the men could go and study. He wouldn't let me go."
Diaz helped her mom tend to the house until she turned 16.
"Then, I had to go work as a servant for this woman," she says. "I had to clean the house. I had to work in the fields, cutting corn or pulling beans. The house was about two hours away by bus and by train, so I stayed [at the woman's] Monday through Friday, but on Saturday I was allowed to go home and visit my mom."
Her servitude lasted seven years.