Sedona Red Rock High School hosted its first Hispanic Community Outreach Night Tuesday, Oct. 24, in its cafeteria.
Tables filled with more than 70 students, parents, teachers, school administrators and board members, firefighters, police officers and involved community members, all enticed with free pizza and soda.
In bringing together the police, the fire district and school administration for a night of sharing information, high school Principal Darrin Karuzas said he hoped the event would encourage parents that their children are safe both at school and in the community.
“What we tell our students and our parents every year at back to school night is there’s three parts of a school: One is the teachers and staff, of course; two is the students; and the third is the parents, the family and their support,” Karuzas said, with Sedona-Oak Creek School District translator Maria Ortega translating into Spanish. “And if all three of those are working together, your child will have the best opportunity to learn and grow and develop. With that being said, in the community, we need our police, we need our firefighters, we need our agencies, we need our schools all working together.”
One student shared how getting involved and asking for help at school changed his outlook.
Danny Avalar, a fifth-year senior, struggled his first few years of high school. He dropped out altogether halfway through his freshman year and didn’t return until the next school year began.
“I realized I had to get this together, or else I’m going to be here forever,” Avalar said. “My parents came here at the age of 16 with the clothes on their back and nothing more, to give me a better life. I felt I was disappointing them by not taking advantage of all the opportunities offered here.”
He got back on track after he visited counselor Elaine Rankin’s office during his third year of high school. Now he’s on track to graduate this year, after repeating his junior year, and he has plans to get training to be a firefighter and paramedic.
“And he will accomplish that goal,” Rankin said. “The message is ‘believe in your kids.’”
Also at the event were representatives from the Sedona Police Department and the Sedona Fire District. School Resource Officer Jackie McQuaid and SPD Cmdr. Ron Bayne shared about their roles in the community.
McQuaid returned to her role as the school district’s SRO last month after leaving in January because of a lack of funding available. But for this school year, the district worked out an agreement with the city of Sedona to share responsibility for her salary, so she’s able to work full time on the high school and junior high campus, as well as West Sedona and Big Park Community schools.
“I am a resource for you, your families and your students as well as the community,” McQuaid said. Not only is she a dedicated police officer for the schools, but she also serves as the high school’s liaison to the public, fielding questions and requests from those who don’t have students enrolled. “I am here to help.”
Bayne recently moved to Sedona after retiring from the police force in Scottsdale, where he worked to improve relations between law enforcement and the Latino community in the Phoenix area.
“The police here in Sedona have one goal: To protect the community. To keep the community safe,” he said, addressing the audience in both English and Spanish. “There’s a lot of people in general that fear the police, right? And we understand that.”
But, he explained, while the local police force has many roles in the community, including immigration, its primary focus is not on enforcing immigration law.
“The philosophy in the United States is community-based policing,” he said. “And we wouldn’t be able to do that without the public’s help.”
SFD Capt. Rodrigo Sanchez also did his own translating, flowing between English and Spanish to explain how “bomberos” do more than just put out fires.
“We do so much that I think the community doesn’t know,” Sanchez said. Any time a fire rig — truck, ambulance or car — is out, there’s a paramedic on board, and they answer all the 911 and medical emergency calls in the Sedona area.
He explained that SFD’s medical services are free, a concern he often hears about and was expressed during a Q&A at the end of the outreach event.
“We’re the cheapest, simplest form of government,” Sanchez said after fielding questions in both English and Spanish about the cost of a 911 call, from medical treatment to ambulance