In September, the board of Indianapolis Public Schools will vote on a proposal to close four high schools in the district. Chalkbeat is collecting narratives from former students and teachers from Arlington, Broad Ripple, John Marshall, and Northwest.
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(This interview has been edited for length and clarity).
Timothy Bass, Sr., Arlington High School Class of 1982
President, Arlington High School Alumni Association
I’ve been a resident here in Indianapolis almost all my life; all my brothers, all my sisters, we all went to Arlington High School. My mother still lives on the east side, and has been over there almost 46 years. We’ve been in that community since 1971.
Question: What was Arlington like back then?
Answer: A lot of school pride – when I went there, there were about 2,600 students in all four classes. It was a very large school.
It was more of an attraction. There was a whole lot more things to offer kids then than today. I know the numbers alone in IPS – Arlington has anywhere from six to seven hundred students – but my argument is, how are you going to attract students to come to a school like Arlington if you’re not going to put better curriculum inside the school?
Back then, there were a lot of sheet metal or welding and woodworking, arts and crafts, there was show choir and band and orchestra. I mean, this was a school with 2,600 students. I was in concert choir and show choir. Those were the types of programs that the public schools offered in the early ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. If you had dreams to become whatever, you could take those courses. Arsenal Tech has automotives and barbering (now), where you can learn certain trades and fields. In the public schools back then, you could take those trades at your home school.
When the school first opened, a lot of teachers I talk to, they’ll tell you that Arlington was no different from (elite private schools like) Park Tudor or Brebeuf. Students would cash out – when they went to Rose Hulman or Purdue, there were certain courses that they didn’t have to take because they already took them at Arlington.
Q. What was the relationship with the surrounding community?
A. Back in the day, many of us that lived in the Arlington community and neighborhood, we all walked to school. We all went to the same grade school, and all the kids that went to that school lived in the neighborhood. The community was at its peak. Businesses were growing, the values of the homes were up, because everybody lived in the community. It was like one big family. A lot of schools in that area fed into Arlington High School, that’s why the (high school enrollment) was so large, like 2,600, 2,800, because there were maybe eight elementary schools that existed back 30 years ago in that community.
The neighborhood was like a family. If I got in trouble, my neighbors saw it, they would get on me just like my parents would get on me, and then they would tell my parents later. Everybody looked out for one another.
Q. Who were the teachers that had an influence on you?
A. My speech teacher Mrs. Wyatt — she was a speech teacher there, a drama teacher, in charge of all the plays that we did at Arlington. She was more than just a teacher, she was a mother figure. I remember back in 1980, my dad suffered a heart attack, and we didn’t know if he was going to make it or not. Because I was very close to my dad, I was struggling in her class and she saw how I was struggling, and one day she asked me to stay after school. And we had that conversation, I shared with her what I was going through, and the encouragement she gave me, it stayed with me until right now. She’s the reason why I do what I do for Arlington, going back and giving to those kids who I know need a strong support system.
Q. What does the alumni association do today?
A. We started an alumni snack pantry for the students at Arlington to help with some of the hunger that’s going on in our public schools. We have alumni who are part of the Walker Scholarship Foundation; for the past few years, we have been sending kids to college debt-free. This year we sent 15 students. Giving kids support, giving kids the opportunity to benefit, is what the alumni have been able to do.
When Arlington came back (to IPS after state takeover) a couple years ago, it opened with many, many challenges. Arlington for years had a bad name, like people were afraid to tell other people they had graduated from Arlington because of all the negative stuff people were saying. But the last 3 years, everybody who graduated from Arlington now has a sense of pride because now everybody is coming together on one accord, trying to save kids. It makes us all like one big family. Our slogan is, since day one, “Together we can, Together we will” because we believe it really takes a village to help these kids today.
Q. What do you think about the proposed closing?
A. There’s a recommendation for Arlington to become a middle school and all that is is a recommendation. We as the alumni we’re fighting that recommendation to keep Arlington open as a high school. I know that we may be fighting a decision that’s already been made, but we’d rather go out fighting than have that regret later.
I think that the board and Dr. Ferebee just haven’t given Arlington enough time to be successful. This is just the third school year, and the school has made significant progress. So all we’re asking the board and Dr. Ferebee, at least give us five years to see what we could do!
We feel like we deserve a chance to show everybody that this school can be what it was when it opened in 1961. We’re showing them there are a lot of things happening at Arlington High School that they aren’t even aware of.