Welcome to the 'Hood, Kids: Visiting the Grand Prairie School Expected to House Migrants

Keep Dallas Observer Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Dallas and help keep the future of Dallas Observer free.

Lamar Alternative Education Center used to be Lamar Elementary. It's part of the Grand Prairie Independent School District, and it officially closed its doors at the end of the 2013 school year because of low attendance. Today, the school sits empty in a working-class neighborhood, and looks the part of a schoolhouse hastily abandoned: A peek through the windows reveals the lights are turned on, but no occupants. Child-sized plastic chairs, some toppled haphazardly, are strewn about the foyer. Crumpled pieces of paper and broken school supplies litter the linoleum tile.

This school, forgotten by most until just a few weeks ago, will likely be the new temporary home to more than a thousand Honduran, Guatemalan, and Salvadoran children. And it could open its doors to these kids within the month.

Elisha Caudle, a neighbor, attended Lamar Elementary as a child, when the school taught kindergarten through 5th grade. "I do feel sad to see it change," she told Unfair Park when we visited the neighborhood last week. "I went there to school for six years. But it is what it is." She said there are still too many questions that the city has to answer before residents feel comfortable with the neighboring shelter. "We're mostly wondering about the discipline part of it. I mean, is there going to be gang members in it?"

The City of Grand Prairie sent a letter to each of these residents detailing the intended use for Lamar, which is how Rebecca Parks first heard of the intended shelter. Parks lives down the street from Lamar, next to a community park, and has young children of her own. She said she doesn't mind the immigrant children being transplanted to Lamar, as long as they keep to themselves.

"I don't want a bunch of kids running around unsupervised. But people are saying they're not even going to be allowed off the property," she said. "I'm just worried there's going to be a bunch of fighting in there. How do we know they're going to get along? And if they're teenagers they're not going to want to stay on the property."

Ramzi Farah lives across the street from the school. He is most concerned about his property value dropping. He said the school grounds are often used by neighborhood families for community events and pick-up baseball and basketball games.

"It's a good cause, but when you put it in a neighborhood we have the right to know way beforehand," Farah said. When Lamar Elementary was first converted to Lamar Alternative Education Center, the property value of neighborhood homes dropped, he said. "My property is going to dramatically drop value again. I mean do you want to live next to a facility that could have fences and cameras? It's going to look like living next to a prison. That's what people are mostly concerned about."

The City of Dallas has recently expressed doubts that some of the proposed shelter property could be ready by the end of July. Grand Prairie ISD officials, in particular, have said Lamar is not yet ready for occupants. But unlike other propsed sites, Lamar has not seen an outpouring of protests. Most neighborhood residents agree that while there are still logistics to consider, housing the kids at Lamar would be a good thing to do.

Farah is himself an immigrant, and has spent a good part of his 20 years in the United States learning how to navigate the immigration system. "For the act itself, of sheltering the kids, I don't see it's wrong," he said. Raised in Haifa, Israel as a Christian, Farah aid, he can relate to the children in how they're stuck in the middle of two governments.

"For me, I totally understand. I'm not Jewish and I'm not Muslim, but I'm an Israeli Christian. So I'm in the middle basically." He smiled slightly. "Just like those kids."

Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Observer community and help support independent local journalism in Dallas.


Join the Observer community and help support independent local journalism in Dallas.