60 years brings major demographic change

October 28, 2019 — by Neeti Badve and Aaria Thomas

The 2019-20 school year marks the 60th year of the school, and over the course of six decades have come dozens of significant changes — improvements to facilities, shifts in classes offered and multiple turnovers in teachers and administrators  But perhaps the biggest change is the students themselves: Saratoga High has changed from being a nearly all-white school in the ‘60s, ‘70 and ‘80s to a diverse melting pot of immigrants and their children today. 

When assistant principal Kerry Mohnike started working as an English and journalism teacher in 1991, she said that the school was 85 percent Caucasian and 15 percent Asian American. By 1995, it had shifted slightly, becoming 70 percent white and 30 percent Asian American. It was around a 50-50 split in the early 2000s, and now its flipped with 70 percent of the student body being Asian American and 30 percent white.

Mohnike said she saw the demographics change gradually over the years as more and more immigrants made their way to live in highly coveted Saratoga.

“I think it was just a matter of word of mouth for a lot of families,” Mohnike said. “I just think as the students came and found success, the word got out, and the demographic shifted slowly.”

Saratoga Guidance counselor Alinna Satake was a student at the high school during the 1990s, and during her time as a student she saw the demographics balance out with about even numbers of Asian and white students. Satake said the Asian American half of the school was made up of east and southeast Asians. 

“Something that was kind of like a thing when I went to school here was there wasn’t a senior lot, and a junior lot,” Satake said. “It was more like the lot white kids parked in and the lot that Asian kids parked in.”

The separation of students in this sense reflected the racial tensions between caucasians and Asians during the 1990s that sometimes came up subtly and other times not so much.

Mohnike remembered the class of 1996’s graduating picture, which said “AP Baby.” The phrase stood for “Asian Pride Baby” and created a lot of controversy during that year.

Saratoga High was hardly the only place with increasing racial tensions in the 1990s. 

The Rodney King Riots, sparked due to African-American motorist Rodney King being beaten by police and eventually leading to his death, occurred in Los Angeles in 1992, but their racial effects and stress spread as far as the Bay Area. 

Mohnike recalled a story of an ASB president who was also on the newspaper staff while she was journalism adviser. This student, who was Asian, was so stressed out about the Rodney King riots and the increasing tensions in the Bay Area that she would be “sobbing in the journalism room because of the anxiety she was feeling.”

The change in school demographics accompanied a change in the community. Attendance secretary Julia Peck had her own kids go through the school and has lived in the community for decades.. 

During that time, she said she has noticed the sense of community decreasing. Peck believes that this is because families move in while their kids are school age and leave once they graduate.

“I miss the sense of community and knowing your neighbors having the fun events that happen in a town,” Peck said. “Even in my own neighborhood, people would be playing out on the streets all together. There are kids in my neighborhood, but they’re mainly inside. Everybody else, you hardly see anybody out on the streets.”

While tensions over the demographic shifts were obvious among students in the 1990s, Mohnike feels the situation today has improved.

“Racial tensions do not seem as invasive as they once were,” Mohnike said. “We put a lot of attention on equity over the years, so it definitely feels better from an adult perspective.”