BY JOESPH WRIGHT
Nogales, a city rich in history, is full of great historic buildings; the old court house which is now used as the Cochise College campus in Nogales, the old fire station is now the Pimeria Alta Museum, and the old Nogales High School building up on the hill on Plum Street. These days the old High School is being used as the Nogales Unified School District #1 headquarters, but there are still people in the city that remember running up the stairs to get to class, cheerleading out on the field, or studying diligently on the old wooden desks. To many it is still an important part of their past; even part of what shaped their future, just as it has done for the City of Nogales.
The school, which opened in 1915, was a step forward for the City of Nogales at the time. There were a few smaller schools such as the Elm Street School, but nothing quite like Nogales High School. It was a symbol of the city’s growth and a new way for members of the community to connect.
Little by little, the school began to grow and pick up traditions along the way. “The Adobe,” which remains the title of the NHS yearbook to this day, was first printed in 1919 by Nogales’ first newspaper, “The Herald.” You can still find a collection of the “Adobe” dating back to the early 1920’s at the Pimeria Alta Museum downtown, and even a few at the Nogales Public Library. The photographs and words printed on the pages of the old yearbooks give a sense of what life was back then.
When war broke out in the 1940’s Nogales began to change. Local young men and women started to look for ways that they could serve, many dropping out of school to join the armed services. A number of those that returned home continued their education.
Nogales High School began to grow; it went from having only four graduates in 1916, to 19 in 1923, then to 88 in 1962. The school continued to grow until eventually it could no longer support the large number of students who attended. According to Clariza Gastelum, a former NHS student who graduated in it’s final year, students had to walk down the hill and across the street through traffic in order to get to some of their classes that were not held in the building.
In 1981 the building finally closed its doors as a high school. All freshmen through juniors entered into a new, larger school following their summer vacation, which is the Nogales High School that we all know today.
For those who attended the old Nogales High School on Plum Street, the memories are still vivid. Kathleen Escalada, who graduated in ’62, remembers attending class in the upper two levels while the younger 7th and 8th grade classes occupied the lower level, seeing the name of her father (who graduated from the school in 1919) carved in to the same old wooden desk that he had sat in over 40 years prior, and a spirit of tradition that is rare in schools today. “Everyone thoroughly enjoyed it” says Escalada. “There was a lot of camaraderie.”
Another well known local who has greatly influenced the educational community in Nogales also remembers his time attending the old NHS. Jimmy Barnett, former principle of Nogales High School graduated from there in 1934. Barnett was blessed to see the school change and grow over the years as a student, teacher, assistant principal and eventually principal. “The inside has changed a lot over the years, but still now it’s a beautiful building.”
There are many of us are that are too young to remember the old high school when it functioned as such but because of our parents, grandparents, and people like Kathleen Escalada and Jimmy Barnett who remained in Nogales and continue to give back to the community, the old school still has an impact on our lives, and the lives of our children.