Orange High School: More than a street away?

Jeff Cruz is a Panther — an Orange High School Panther. After the bell rings, he lobs tennis balls in the courts behind the tall, wire fence that outlines the high school. Nearby, teenage couples paw at each other’s hands in the lawn, boys flip their skateboards and girls giggle about the day’s drama.

Orange High School (pictured) is just blocks away from Chapman University. Photo by Sarah Purlee.

Orange High School (pictured) is just blocks away from Chapman University. Photo by Sarah Purlee.

Yet a week earlier, Cruz was at Chapman listening to Elie Wiesel speak, and a year earlier he volunteered at the Chapman University 5K Run. After tennis, he’ll go home and study for his Advanced Placement World History class.

He wants to be a Chapman Panther too.

“Chapman is my first choice school because I want to stay a Panther and play tennis there,” Cruz said. “When I tell people, some say, ‘Oh, that school, it’s so expensive and snooty.’ But I say you shouldn’t care what people think.”

Cruz is one of more than 2,000 Orange High School (OHS) students that attend class one block from Chapman, an island of Caucasian privilege in a city with starkly different demographics. While administrators said the two schools plan some activities together, for students, there remains a blatant disparity bigger than Walnut Avenue.

The narrow, orange-splashed hallways of OHS are tacked with bilingual flyers, inviting parents of the 78 percent Latino student body to “Venga a la junta,” or “Come join us,” at school events. Of those students, 70 percent receive free and reduced lunches, meaning they are considered socioeconomically disadvantaged by the state. Many would be first-generation students, or the first in their families to attend to college, said Orange High School principal Ernest Gonzalez.

Across the street, 79 percent of Chapman freshmen listed their ethnicity as white, and 14 percent as Latino, in a 2011 survey by Chapman Institutional Research. Of these students, 6 percent were the first in their families to attend college.

Jerry Price, vice chancellor for student affairs and dean of students, said Chapman offers admittance and financial aid without considering ethnicity.

“There is a correlation between socioeconomic status and race, and some universities are going to be out of reach for students of lower socioeconomic background,” he said. “But if a lower number of students from racial minorities are applying because of cost or the university’s reputation, it’s something worth looking at. It’s not an easy discussion.”

Bianca Sabau, an OHS assistant site coordinator who graduated from the high school before earning her bachelor’s and master’s degree from Chapman, said OHS students notice the university’s different demographics quickly.

“There’s a noticeable difference in diversity, and that’s visible when you enter campus,” she said. “At first I was a little intimidated because I thought, ‘Oh, look at all these rich kids.’ But Chapman actually opened me up to the Orange community more.”

First, though, she had to cross the street.

Students weigh in 

Orange High School sophomore Joseph Cervantes chats with three friends on the corner of Shaffer Street and Jefferson Avenue on a hot Friday afternoon after school. A block away is Chapman, which he said he would attend if he had the opportunity. But he also said the scholarships he hears about aren’t realistic for all students.

“Scholarships are realistic only if you’re that type of student with perfect grades,” he said. “People here from Orange, nobody has much. Then you look over at a bunch of rich, white kids with expensive longboards, and obviously they have money.”

Orange County has a history of distinctly divided neighborhoods, back to when Santa Ana separated students into Latino and white schools in 1913. Later, in 1933, luxury neighborhood developers moved 437 Latinos out of Fullerton.

The city of Orange has also long had a large Latino population. Yet in 1952, Chapman bought Orange High School’s land and buildings, including Memorial Hall. Now, it is complex for many students like those at OHS to attend the mostly Caucasian, private university in its place, said Juan Lara, chairman of the Orange County Hispanic Education Endowment Fund.

“They have an equal chance at it, but with a lot of caveats,” Lara said. “A lot of students are asked to take so many Advanced Placement classes, do well on SATs, do community service and, in many cases, they also have to help support their families.”

Sophomore communication studies major and OHS graduate Justin Villasenor started Circle K International, a leadership club, at Chapman and plays tennis with OHS students weekly. However, he said it was difficult to adjust to the different student population at Chapman when he first arrived.

“It’s just across the street, but it’s a totally different world,” he said. “People here dress to impress with their heels and tanks. I guess because of the change in demographics, it was hard for me to identify with groups at orientation events. I was a bit lonely.”

On the other side of Walnut Avenue, OHS senior and basketball player Idalia Solis said she knows students that walk around Chapman to get home instead of through it because they feel uncomfortable. She, however, said she enjoyed meeting the women’s basketball team when the OHS team visited campus.

“The Chapman kids stare at us, but they don’t say anything,” she said. “They let us have our basketball banquet there. A lot of people think they’re stuck-up, but the ones I’ve met have been really nice.”

It’s something that both sides of the street need to think about, said junior television and broadcast major Bailey Maloney, who volunteered to work with OHS students at the Orange High Leadership Conference in February.

“More than anything, we judge them as troublemakers, and they judge us as though we’ve never had anything bad happen in our lives,” she said. “But we need to understand that everyone has something going on no matter what we look like or where we go to school. Both parties need to make an effort.”

The administrative link

Villasenor said he pursued Chapman as his first-choice school, but only after Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID), a college preparatory program, encouraged him to.

Gonzalez said OHS and Chapman have tried to connect through AVID and other programs like Holocaust writing, art contests, college tours and creative writing sessions. Yet he said both schools want to create a long-term connection to expose more first-generation students to a university environment.

“It helps them sometimes to subconsciously have that idea of college in their mind,” he said. “We just want them to go to college, and I think Chapman is a great option.”

When junior communication studies major David Parraguirre attended OHS, he challenged himself to not step foot on campus until he was accepted.

“So many people said it was impossible or too expensive. I think I had that fascination of proving people wrong,” he said. “And I wanted to go somewhere small and prestigious to focus on academics.”

Dean of the College of Educational Studies Don Cardinal works with Chapman presidential fellow Ruebén Martinez, who recruits first-generation students, and said Chapman wants the talent and diversity OHS students can bring to campus.

“Every institution wants a demographic makeup of its students that mirrors the demographics of the region you are in,” he said. “If you’re in central Los Angeles, and you don’t have any African Americans, you have to ask yourself what you’re doing wrong.”

The walk across the street

This separation may be more than just Panthers of a different kind. Parraguirre said the differences between the two sides of Walnut Avenue reflect the city of Orange too.

“There are certain neighborhoods where only Hispanics live and stores where only Hispanics go,” he said. “At Chapman, there was one student who said Hispanics’ job was mowing lawns.”

In high school, Parraguirre joined a peace walk in Old Towne Orange to support education for children of Mexican immigrants, and said he was surprised by the reaction.

“People would stop their cars to yell vulgar things at us like wetback or to go home,” he said. “It made me sad because Orange is my home.”

Despite administrative efforts to connect diverse groups in Orange, Lara said these individual sentiments are not uncommon.

“Orange County is segregated, that’s just a statement of fact,” he said. “But it’s my hope that the youth of today can see the value of a more multi-ethnic society.”

Villasenor said he knows Chapman students who mistakenly think Orange demographics mirror those of the college.

“A lot of students here might benefit from experience the area, getting out of Chaptown, and realizing that it’s not all just like it is here,” he said. “We have the power to step in and to help those Orange High School students.”

In the mean time, Cruz will register for four Advanced Placement classes next year and continue to play tennis. He said he’s trying to not only to be admitted to Chapman, but to also receive a scholarship so he can attend. He knows the walk across the street is long.

But the Panther wants to find a bridge.