The original Aliso School

The original Aliso School, built in 1892, occupied a small plot of land along the unpaved Coast Highway—the center of today’s downtown Carpinteria.

Editor’s note: This series on Carpinteria’s early schools originally ran in CVN in 2011. Parts one and two can be found at coastalview.com.

Built in 1892, Aliso School was the last addition to Carpinteria Valley’s collection of four rural schoolhouses. The pretty little wooden building with classrooms accommodating 50 children stood on the corner of the Coast Highway (now Carpinteria Avenue) and Walnut Avenue, on the site of today’s Veterans Memorial Building.

Little has been written on the early years of the school, but its later years have fallen under increased scrutiny in the last decade. Records indicate that Aliso operated in a similar fashion to the rest of the area schools until 1913, when all of the valley’s tiny, separate school districts consolidated, a new Union Grammar School went up, and children from all across Carpinteria found themselves educated together under the same roof (more on the Union Grammar School in next week’s “Throwback Thursday”). The togetherness of 1913 didn’t last long.

Evidence points to 1919 or 1920 as the first school year that the children of Mexican immigrants were culled from the general student population at the Union Grammar School to receive their education at the reopened Aliso School. John D. McCafferty documented the ensuing 27 years of segregation in Carpinteria schools in his 2003 book “Aliso School ‘For the Mexican Children.’” McCafferty’s thorough research is only briefly synopsized in this column and in an upcoming “Throwback Thursday” covering the early history of the current Aliso School.

In 1926, the Carpinteria Herald reported that Aliso School reopened for immigrant children only in 1919. “This gave those Mexican children who would find it difficult to keep apace with the American children an opportunity to receive more individual instruction,” the article stated. McCafferty noted that in general, however, the newspapers and even school board minutes from the 1920s include few references to Aliso School or its students.

“Judging from minutes of the Santa Barbara County School Board, it appears that Mexican children were not exactly written out of history, but rather were omitted from it to start with,” stated McCafferty. “Obviously there were numerous elementary age children at Aliso School in grades 1 through 8 at various times, but for some years none are listed in board minutes as having taken and passed the county-mandated eighth-grade graduation exams required at the time. None are shown as having received eighth-grade diplomas. There is no record as to what happened with these children during the early 1920s.”

Margaret Rodriguez Taggart, a member of one of Carpinteria’s pioneering families, later recalled her troubles enrolling in school as a Rodriguez during this period of segregation. “Someone at school saw my surname and said I belonged over there (at Aliso) with the rest of them (Mexicans) … It never resulted in anything but hard feelings,” she said.

Carpinteria agriculture boomed in the early 1900s, and by 1925, school overcrowding had become an issue. Materials from Ocean School, the little schoolhouse on Toro Canyon that had closed when the Union Grammar School opened, were used to tack new rooms onto Aliso School. Still, the little school was bursting at the seams.

The school district purchased a small strip of land on the south side of the Aliso campus, and on June 2, 1925, a group of parents petitioned the school board to include bathing facilities and dressing rooms in their expansion plans for Aliso. Showers were built, giving many Aliso students access to running water and indoor bathing that they didn’t have at home.

Carpinteria’s population continued to increase, and in 1929, the school board decided to seek out and purchase a new site for a school to house the Mexican children. These lofty plans were set aside when the stock market historically crashed and funds became tight.

In 1932, 146 students attended Aliso School. The blatant need for a new school drove the school board to schedule a bond election for March 28. Voters passed the measure 4-1, approving $10,000 worth of bonds to purchase nine acres in Old Town Carpinteria. The board also sold the land from the old school to help pay for the new school.

The doors of the original Aliso School were shuttered for good soon after, but Carpinteria would still submit its immigrant student population to many more years of segregation. The rest of this history will be covered a few weeks from now in “Throwback Thursday.”

To learn more about Carpinteria’s unique and interesting past, visit the Carpinteria Valley Museum of History, open Tuesday through Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. at 956 Maple Ave.

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