After last month’s visit to re-emerging Shortridge High School, it was an obvious choice to tour the North Side’s largest high school: North Central.
When the school opened in 1956, Washington Township’s population was rapidly increasing and the township’s residents wanted a school that was closer to where their children lived. Until that point, most students attended Shortridge and now-closed Broad Ripple High Schools.
Originally housed around the corner in what is now Northview Middle School, North Central soon moved to its current building on 86th Street. It is the state’s fourth-largest non-online high school with approximately 3,600 students. Only suburban-North Side Carmel, far-West Side Ben Davis, and far-East Side Warren Central gather more students. Its Alumni/ae Hall of Fame is huge and includes former Governor Mitch Daniels, former Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson, singer Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, astronaut David Wolf, and entrepreneur Scott Jones.
Although it is not my alma mater, my sister attended and loved NCHS as did a very large percentage of my friends. All of this was in the late 70s and early 80s. I went to its musicals, Jr. Spectacular variety shows, and quite a few other performances. Along with half the North Side, I took tennis lessons in Barbara Wynne’s massive Washington Township tennis program at North Central. With thoughts of that specific time of my life in mind as I pulled into the parking lot, it would have seemed natural that a song from Boston, Steve Miller, or Aerosmith would start playing on the car radio. I was listening to NPR, though. Things change.
But what of North Central today?
My hour-and-a-half tour last week was conducted by two engaging parents. The group included a parochial middle school student who will be a freshman next year as well as an incoming student who recently arrived from Brazil. Their very friendly families joined us and we ventured forth.
My visit confirmed to me that North Central remains a miniature version of a city, albeit perhaps with fewer preppy outfits than I remember from the 1980s. It’s a comprehensive high school, in every meaning of that term. It offers the International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement programs for the large percentage of students going on to college. Adjacent to NCHS is the J.Everett Light Center for career-track-minded people. North Central’s well-known music program, both choral and instrumental, continues to win statewide awards. Sports also continues to play a very strong role statewide. Want to be a radio disc jockey? It’s here.
1. It was quiet for a high school! Whether it was the amount of space allotted to each student or the carpeting in most hallways, it seemed much quieter/calmer than I remembered;
2. The building is huge, of course, but very well-maintained. Facilities appear to be up to today’s reasonable standards. The recent natatorium is top-notch, the auditorium is still the landmark it has long been, and, in general, things seemed light and bright;
3. The students themselves were pleasant and in a good mood. That could be due to lunch periods fast approaching, of course, but it’s always a good sign;
4. The school feels like a small liberal arts college - just enclosed. So many choices and possibilities to sample. It offers a wider range of clubs, sports, and activities than is found at most schools. I enjoyed stopping by the art gallery that, that day, featured works related to the Buffalo Soldiers of the Civil War;
5. The school is very proud to note that 824 students (out of 3,600) had a first language other than English. Of these, Spanish, Karen (Sino-Tibet), and Arabic were the top three languages spoken by NCHS students other than English. Until this visit, I’d never heard of the language Karen, nor that we had a significant Tibetan population. I not only learned a bit from this trip but think even better of our city as a whole than when I went in.
6. As it happens, the first people I ran into when entering the building were Realtors Chris and Valerie Scherrer. They reported that they could not have been happier with their choice to send their children to North Central.
7. Like Shortridge, North Central accepts students from outside of its school district. While there are a few special arrangements required, many families living outside of Washington Township bring their children to North Central.
My key take-away from North Central was not one of nostalgia, but one of a living opportunity center. While I never attended a school with even one-third the population of NCHS, I very much appreciate that it is because of this size that the aspiring actor, engineer, author, or mathematician is given options that are often not otherwise possible.
For more information: www.nchs.cc