A Phoenix High School Unlike Any Other

By Naomi Gingold
Published: Tuesday, November 8, 2016 - 7:20am
Updated: Wednesday, February 8, 2017 - 6:10pm
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(Photo by Naomi Gingold - KJZZ)
Juniors in the law enforcement class stretch as part of their daily physical training.

At a time when police shootings are in the news and the conversation around policing is fraught, choosing to go into law enforcement might not seem like the most obvious choice for a 14-year-old, especially a 14-year-old student of color. But in one high school in Phoenix, that’s exactly what’s happening.

From the outside, Franklin Police and Fire High School almost seems like any other high school in Phoenix. But if you attend morning assembly, even if you overlook the students lining up in color coordinated, tucked in, matching t-shirts, just the first words spoken aloud will alert you to the fact that this public school is different than most. Because here, assembly begins with a military-style call and response.

Franklin Police and Fire High School is a public school, but there are only around 300 students here, all of whom had to apply to get in. In junior year, students join either the fire or law enforcement track, where on top of the typical high school curriculum, they train to become firefighters or police officers.

The law enforcement track is a bit more popular

Alejandrina Garcia is a junior at Franklin who explained, “My goal is to become an officer and then from there move on to become a domestic violence detective and make my way up to swat team.”

Like many here, Garcia decided what she wanted to be in life far before her junior year.

Second period, the juniors in her track have law enforcement class.

Half of the class does their daily training first, running and climbing walls wearing cumbersome, heavy police belts.

Students are expected to meet the physical requirements and similar academic requirements of a police academy.

Two juniors, Hannah Archer and Anna Noriega, demonstrate how they recently learned to make an arrest, playing both parts, the officer and the suspect.

Upstairs in Garcia’s class, teacher Andrew Viduare, a former trooper in the Arizona Department of Public Safety, shows a recent news story about a police officer who hesitated to use her gun when making an arrest, because she feared public disapproval. She ended up badly beaten and in the hospital.

After the video, Vidaure takes questions. One student asks about the taser.

Vidaure explained that, “Tasers have to come in contact with two pieces of the body to carry the current. Somebody said tase them in the face? Negative. The head is always off limit in defensive technique.”

Another junior in Vidaure’s class is Anahi Corea-Apodaca. She’s from Arizona, but when she was 7, the recession hit, and her parents sent her and a brother to live with relatives in Michoacan, Mexico

There was a lot of gang violence and what she described as random shootings, muggings and a corrupt law enforcement.

Corea-Apodaca said, “Seeing all that [violence], just made me want to better myself and better my community when I come back to Arizona.” And she decided to become a homicide detective.

Corea-Apodaca is a precocious 16-year-old, in AP and honors classes, but many here are like her in that they’re focused and driven. The one phrase teachers keep repeating is that these students choose to be here.  

Also like Corea-Apodaca, 90 percent of the student body is Latino, a community that hasn’t always had the best relationship with law enforcement. And her family isn’t exactly enthusiastic about her career choice.

She explained that, “They thought I was kind of like going to go out and arrest Mexicans, like go become one of them.”  In other words: “one of the bad cops,” one of the ones that hurts people.  

There are students at Franklin who are undocumented immigrants. Or are official residents but not citizens, like Corea-Apodaca’s classmate Garcia. But you can’t be a police officer in the U.S. if you’re not a citizen.

Garcia, however, is undaunted and said, “I do want to become an officer and I will someday. So I do plan to join the military, I’m still debating about army or marines, because they help you get your citizenship."

At Franklin, there are plenty of students  who say they want a career in law enforcement, but there are also plenty of students who say they don’t.

Dr. Tom Nerini, the school guidance counselor, explained that, “Some of our students are here because they are interested in being part of law and fire and public service but sometimes they’re here just because it’s a small school.”

Students said etiher way, they’re getting a good education.

And even if they want to, students actually can’t go to the police academy in Phoenix until they’re nearly 21.

The emphasis at Franklin is actually on college. The school has a 100 percent graduation rate. Last year, seniors were offered more in college scholarships than other schools in Phoenix with seven times the number of students.

And regardless of whether these students do go into law enforcement, they’re all taking what they’ve learned about policing beyond these walls.

In law enforcement class, students talk about police misconduct, good practices, how the media can be quick to blame, but a conversation about implicit bias and institutional racism does not seem to be a part of the formal conversation here.

But students, especially students of color, do think and talk about them.

Corea-Apodaca said thay are all taught crass stereotypes and points out common ones, that “Mexicans are bad, black people are bad. White people are snobby.”

But stereotypes and generalizations, she explained, don’t work towards any community, including the police.

She said, “If we educate ourselves first in our classroom, we can go and bring that out into our community, and little by little we’ll be changing everyone’s mindsets. And so we can stop this police brutality and stop people from thinking that police are bad.”

Corea-Apodaca makes sure to point out to her family examples of good and bad policing. Although she describeed her family as still “iffy” about her chosen path, they are, she explained, “supportive.”

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