It's another typical morning at Santa Ana's Glenn L. Martin Elementary School, and by 10 a.m. kindergartners have invaded the playground. The chatter of giggly children rises above the sandbox--the sound of home-taught Spanish mingling with spurts of classroom-taught English.
Of Martin's 1,105 pupils, only nine are non-Latino and many come from working-class families--a stark contrast to the mostly white middle-class students who filled the Wilshire neighborhood school a half-century ago.
As the school approaches 50 this September, administrators, teachers and alumni say the changing complexion of Martin is just one of many changes the school has witnessed over five decades.
Once the largest elementary school in the district, Martin now rests in the middle of the pack and boasts a healthy 20-1 student-teacher ratio. And the PTA, once a school mainstay and proud emblem of parent participation, hasn't existed at Martin since the 1980s.
What hasn't changed are the high hopes for the children who walk through the doors each day. Despite sometimes dismal test scores, poverty and language barriers, generations of Santa Ana residents are proud to have called the school their alma mater.
"It truly is a neighborhood school," said Principal Roxanna S. Owings. "Many students have parents, aunts, uncles who attended. Many people come back to live here so their kids can go to the same school."
In June, Santa Ana schools Supt. Al Mijares announced an anniversary celebration of Martin Elementary in September, and ever since the school has been flooded with calls and letters from graduates wanting to commemorate the occasion.
Santa Ana resident Larry Means, 59, was among the first pupils of the fledgling school when it opened in 1951, a time when sugar beet fields and farmland surrounded the small campus. He remembers the first day of class, when the school's namesake, aviation pioneer and Lockheed Martin founder Glenn L. Martin, handed the children autographed pictures of his first flight over Santa Ana in 1912. Means still has that picture.
"All the classes prepared time capsules," Means recalled. "We printed our names and what we wanted to do, and drew pictures. We put it all in large glass jars and buried them beneath the trees being planted between classrooms."
In his message, Means wrote that he wanted to be a construction contractor. In 1988, he retired from the construction business he had owned and operated.
Means said most of the kids were like him: white and middle class.
Delaine Richards, 75, principal at Martin from 1966 to 1971, remembers parents being very involved in the school, especially the mothers who filled the ranks of the PTA. But times have changed, Richards said. Back then, there were more two-parent households with only one wage earner.
It's a shame, really, because parental involvement led to student success, Richards said.
"From an educational standpoint, it was an outstanding school," Richards said. "Test scores at Martin were always in the upper percentiles."
When June Cantu began teaching at Martin in 1975, Santa Ana was starting to burst at the seams with young families and Martin was overflowing.
"We started adding bungalows," said Cantu, 59.
Those bungalows have become a permanent fixture on the campus. The school that had started with 22 rooms now has 45.
Because of the school's changing population, which was becoming more and more Latino, Martin was one of the first schools in the district to offer bilingual education classes in the 1970s. Although all classes have been taught in English since Proposition 227 passed in June 1998, the measure that required instruction to be in English and banned most bilingual programs, the current students and their parents remain mostly Spanish-speaking.
Today, Martin Elementary struggles to overcome the lack of parent involvement and other modern-day realities. It is trying a new system of "parent representatives," who help in class and plan field trips. The evidence of their growing involvement can be seen in the rising test scores. In 1998, Martin was recognized as one of the state's distinguished schools.
It's a place to be proud of, said Sandra Zavala, 10, newly elected student body president. "It's a special place for me."