Palo Alto High School's News and Features Publication

Verde Magazine

Verde Magazine

Verde Magazine

Opinion: Embracing both sides: Navigating two worlds as an ‘EPA kid’

Fabiola Arias
ALL SMILES — At age 5 I pose for a photo during a parent visit day at Greendell school in Palo Alto.

The first time I noticed how different East Palo Alto and Palo Alto were, I was in fifth grade, sitting at the window seat on the bright yellow school bus on the way to school. Riding all the way down Woodland Ave and crossing over the small bridge until the street met Newell Road, I noticed how all the houses got bigger and so did the distance between the parked cars.

As I got older I started to notice how the kids I went to school with seemed to be more privileged. They seemed more carefree about spending money when going out and always had the newest gadgets. 

I realized that a lot of my peers had systems to fall back on if they were not doing well in school. If they were failing a class their parents would simply pay for a high-quality private tutor, which my family does not always have the means to do.

I already understood that being in the Palo Alto Unified School District was a privilege, but I later recognized how, as a student in the Tinsley Voluntary Transfer Program, I needed to work harder than the kids who were here to begin with. 

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The Tinsley Program allows students who live in East Palo Alto and East Menlo Park to attend school in neighboring districts. 

It was established in 1986 after a group of parents filed a lawsuit against the nine Bay Area school districts stating that their children in the South County school districts were not receiving the same educational opportunities as other children in neighboring districts. 

All my life I have always felt too Mexican for the white kids and too white for the Mexican kids.

The parents fought to end the isolation of racial minorities and to give their children and future generations the possibility to thrive in higher-quality schools. The districts accepting these children, in addition to Palo Alto, are Portola Valley, Las Lomitas, Menlo Park, Woodside, Redwood City, San Carlos and Belmont. 

To be eligible for this program, children must be Black or Latino and an East Palo Alto or East Menlo Park resident. The Tinsley Voluntary Transfer Program web page states that in the coming year it will accept only 135 transfer students compared to 206 last year. This decrease is due to the policy in which if 60 percent of the school’s students are racial minorities, schools are not required to save spots for incoming kids, making less space available. 

This policy makes me feel that schools only care about getting the numbers they need so they can qualify as highly diverse schools, instead of prioritizing the education of the students they are supposedly trying to help. This is why schools should priotize the education of students more then the diversity count.

This is where the lottery system comes into play. When there are more applications than there are spots, the program has a lottery system to select who gets in and who does not. 

Why are only some kids pushed ahead, while others are left behind? Currently, only 60 kids will be transferred to PAUSD in the coming lottery.  

I won the lottery because of my two older siblings. When a student is already enrolled in the Tinsley Program, their siblings are prioritized in the application process. 

I started my PAUSD experience when I entered Duveneck Elementary School, the closest elementary school to East Palo Alto. I quickly became close friends with the kids I rode the bus with. 

Seeing the same people every day, growing up with them and to some degree having the same economic background made me feel at home with these people. But I was reluctant to make new friends for a long time. 

I have witnessed that the shared experience of commuting from EPA creates a generational clique that appears to repeat in the generations of Tinsley transfer students I have known. I notice that the same groups of transfer students stay friends and don’t seem to ever branch out to any non-Tinsley transfer students.

I don’t think it is harmful to be friends with the same groups of people but I do think that doing so goes against a key goal of the Tinsley Voluntary Transfer Program, which is to mitigate the racial divide. I have always tried to go out of my comfort zone when making friends. 

You don’t have to fit a set stereotype. You can make your own identity.

Whenever I meet someone who is from East Palo Alto and has gone or is going to a Palo Alto school, I automatically feel connected to them and feel that I can make more vulnerable comments around them. I feel that we can connect on a deeper level, being that we have felt out of place in the same ways. 

Generation after generation of families have grown up in East Palo Alto where neighbors are more than just neighbors and are intertwined as part of the family. I know it is cliché to say but I don’t think I have ever met a person that has lived in East Palo Alto that one of my parents was not in some way connected to. This makes me appreciate being a part of such a close-knit community. 

 Even since I was younger, my friends and I have always had these types of chats, when waiting for the bus to show or walking to class, about how we noticed the white kids in our classes “just knew more” and how they seemed more exposed to media about political issues when we felt that that was not a practice in our homes.  

For me, cultivating friendships outside of this norm is in many ways pushing me to find out more about myself that I would have otherwise never known. It is not that I think that Paly does not have good opportunities for minority students, because they do. 

PAUSD does not lack cultural diversity; it lacks economic diversity.

Paly offers special counselors for first-generation students, which many East Palo Alto kids are. Paly offers peer tutoring and they also support and help elevate students’ voices, for example giving students the freedom to make their own ethnic clubs like the Paly Latinos Unidos club, Palo Alto Black Student Union and more. 

Paly and PAUSD offer a lot of useful opportunities but I think what they fail to understand is that some kids and their families don’t have the same resources. 

However much they try to make us equal, we will always be dissimilar to the kids whose families have the bonus of already living in such a highly wealthy area. PAUSD does not lack cultural diversity; it lacks economic diversity.

The main thing that the PAUSD’s faculty and students can do to improve their understanding of minorities is to be educated on the contexts their students and peers are coming from. 

One time, I mentioned to one of my peers that I lived in East Palo Alto and they straight-up asked me where that was. I was baffled — they had no idea where East Palo Alto was even though it is less than a 10-minute drive away. Students need to learn to be socially aware to be prepared for the real world, beyond Palo Alto and understand that not everyone gets the same opportunities they do. Getting out of your comfort zone is hard to do, especially when making new friends. 

It comes from deep within someone to make change in their social life and break the cycle but that is what needs to be done. 

All my life I have always felt too Mexican for the white kids and too white for the Mexican kids, but what I have grown to understand — and am still learning — is that you don’t have to fit a set stereotype. You can make your own identity. And that’s what I am pursuing. 

As I drive back from school every day and pass that invisible but inevitable line, I watch as the houses get gradually smaller and notice how the cars are parked bumper to bumper. There is an undeniable sense of familiarity and I feel proud to call East Palo Alto my home.