Going Back in Time to School

Many reader queries have been addressed in this column, but many remain unanswered. One topic the Native hasn’t dug into is the past history of public school in Las Vegas. Indeed, going to school in Sin City was quite different back in the day. But so was America.

An obvious change? High schools once had student smoking areas. While that might seem crazy in 2017, this was the freewheeling 1980s (or earlier). I’m not sure of the legal smoking age back then, but I know cigarette vending machines were everywhere and none of them checked IDs. The result? The Clark High School quad between classes was thicker with Marlboro Reds than the Double Down Saloon is at midnight on a Saturday.

What about sixth grade centers? Unique to Las Vegas, the Sixth Grade Center Plan of Integration was the CCSD’s lawsuit-forced effort to fulfill the Supreme Court’s landmark desegregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954). From 1972–1993, every neighborhood elementary school in our city’s predominantly African American Westside was instead a sixth grade center. From first through fifth grades, affected neighborhood children were bused to predominantly white schools; for sixth grade, most white kids from the other schools were bussed to a center. Mine was Matt Kelly, and even to my 11-year-old sensibilities, the whole thing still seemed inherently unequal.

As if that wasn’t odd enough, a peripheral effect of sixth grade centers was that junior high schools served grades seven through nine. High school freshmen mingled with (or beat up) 12-year-olds, while high school boys rolled up to Hyde Park junior high in Chevy Novas to pick up their freshmen cheerleader girlfriends.

There’s more to daze and confuse you. While a ninth grader (er, freshman) at Hyde Park, I earned an “Honor Card”—an academic performance perk I could flash to exit class early for “extra library study time.” With apologies to Ms. Owczarzak, I used mine to bail on World History, scooting across the street to scarf fro-yo and play Space Invaders.

Which, of course, leads to the joys of an open campus. I loved hopping into my Datsun 4×4 during Clark’s lunch period, booking to Mickey D’s or Montesano’s Italian Deli with too many pals, the Specials’ “Ghost Town” blaring from my speakers. It was a daily dash of freedom that has sadly been lost since 2002, when CCSD closed all local high school campuses after a Las Vegas High student, “speeding in order to make it back to school before the end of the lunch period” (Las Vegas Sun), crashed into a light pole. Tragic? Absolutely. Reason to end decades of tradition? Questionable.

Have a question or comment about Las Vegas past, present or future? Send them to askanative@vegasseven.com.