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School namesakes Lucas attend dedication ceremony
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Grant and Mildred Lucas were the focus of a Thursday morning dedication of a new Ceres school named in their honor. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

Grant and Mildred Lucas did what they could during decades of living in Ceres to advance education. Mildred taught third grade at Carroll Fowler Elementary School for many years. Grant served eight years on the very first Ceres Unified School District board of trustees in 1965 and is a member of the Ceres Education Foundation Board.

And for their faithfulness, Ceres' newest school was dedicated in their honor during a Thursday morning ceremony at Lucas Elementary School Dual Language Academy.

The school - located between Roeding and Don Pedro roads just west of Mitchell Road -- is one of a kind in Ceres since students are taught half the day in English and the other day in Spanish.

CUSD Supt. Scott Siegel said the school was made possible by the voters when they supported the Measure U bond measure in 2008 "in the face of the greatest economic turmoil of our lifetime." Although no Measure U dollars were spent on the Lucas campus, the passage of Measure U qualified CUSD for state financial hardship construction funds. State funds covered 98 percent of the cost of the school.

Siegel complemented the couple as the "embodiment of what every citizen should aspire to be."

"They have dedicated their lives to service for others and this has come in many forms," he added.

Grant Lucas, a long-time farmer, graduated from Ceres High in 1940. He served in the Airborne Infantry during World War II. Lucas made about 20 jumps as a paratrooper, dropping into France and Belgium to help fight the Nazi advancement in Europe. He returned to Ceres to take over the family farm. He served as a member of the Ceres Lions for over 40 years, participating in Flag Day activities each year providing over 700 flags to Ceres third-graders. He also belongs to the American Legion Post #491.

Wife Mildred Lucas taught school and was recognized as the Citizen of the Year by the Ceres Chamber of Commerce in 1979 after writing her own book on the history of Ceres, "From Amber Grain ... to Fruited Plain" in 1976.

The couple has contributed to student scholarships over the years.

The new campus is located just down the street from where Grant's grandfather, Newel Lucas, tended to a fig orchard dating back to 1906.

Grant and Millie and their sons represent the third and fourth generation of Lucas family members living in Ceres.

Lucas Farms (founded in 1946) received the Agribusiness of the Year Award from the Ceres Chamber of Commerce in 1988.

Siegel said the owl was a fitting mascot for Lucas Elementary because the Lucases "have soared, whether it be in the Airborne infantry or in the civic example they have set, they are wise and this wisdom is reflected in the lives they have lived."

Grant said Ceres schools well prepared his own sons for top level universities, which gave them successful careers.

On hand to watch their parents being honored were sons Tim Lucas, a 1971 Ceres High School graduate and San Diego attorney; and 1969 graduate Pat Lucas of Boise, Idaho, where he is an official with national security.

"I'm very proud of them," said Tim. "It's very well deserved."

Mildred took the microphone and interjected her own brand of humor by stating she couldn't match her husband's four-generation reach into Ceres' past but said "I've only lived here a mere 63 years."

"Ceres and its welcoming ways, its clubs, gatherings, neighbors and certainly the schools have made it home for me," said Mrs. Lucas. "Much more important than Modesto where I lived when I was growing up."

Lucas singled out a former pupil, Councilman Eric Ingwerson. "His mother warned me about his sense of humor would get him into mischievous but you never could really want to punish him."

Roughly a third of the 180 students at Lucas are Spanish speakers who will be instructed in English half the day and Spanish the other half. A third of the students are from English speaking households who will receive split instruction in Spanish and English. Another third are from households where both languages are used.

The goal of CUSD at Lucas is to produce high-achieving bilingual students who have a greater appreciation for the other culture and language, less chance of dropping out and a higher interest in college.

"In this program we focus on academic achievement with all the English skills and all the Spanish skills," said Israel Gonzalez, principal of the new school.

In recruiting families to join in the program, Gonzalez sought a commitment of parents to keep their children in the school between six and seven years.

According to Gonzalez, studies have shown that the traditional model, where Spanish students are pulled out for English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction are not as academically prepared as under the 50/50 dual immersion program. His goal is to have bi-literate students by the time they're in the sixth grade.

The school plans to add grades in subsequent years until Lucas is a K-6 campus.

Gonzalez listed a number of other advantages for students who will be enrolled in the 50/50 program at Lucas. He said they include:

• Increased cognitive skills to "think outside the box";

• Increased job opportunities as an adult since they can speak both languages fluently;

• Fluency in both English and Spanish by sixth grade;

• Lowering drop-out rates among Latino students from the current 20 percent;

• Developing a higher interest in attending college or university;

• Fostering an appreciation for other cultures.