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New Litchfield Park elementary school looks to the future while honoring the past

Students, school
Posted at 12:25 PM, Dec 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-25 21:01:10-05

GOODYEAR, AZ  — What's in a name?

For one west Valley school there is a lot of history and pride. Litchfield Park Elementary School District's newest elementary school opened this school year and is preparing students for the future while honoring the area's past.

"It feels almost unbelievable to tell you the truth," said Belen Soto Moreno. "When I consider what my life was like growing up in the camps."

A life now displayed on the walls of Belen Soto Elementary School. A tribute to Soto herself and all of the Mexican-Americans who worked the land of Litchfield Park when it was owned by Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company from 1917 to 1986.

"It was a wonderful place to live," Soto said. "There were houses, there were other families living there and everybody looked after everybody else."

Soto's family moved into "Camp 54" when she was just nine months old. Her passion for education started early too, thanks to her grade school English teacher, Ms. Gomez.

"I wanted to be just like her, I wanted to be a teacher," Soto said. That dream took a backseat for years.

"At that time you either went to work to help your family or you got married," said Soto.

Soto married Rudy Moreno in 1959. "I saw him and I said, 'oh, he's a handsome-looking boy,'" she said.

They met at the Litchfield Elementary School drinking fountain in first grade.

Soto went on to become the first person of Mexican-American heritage from the southwest Valley to graduate from college.

She helped raise a family and eventually taught at Avondale Elementary School for 37 years. She was also an assistant principal and federal programs director.

"She was a no-brainer for us when it came to naming the school," said Principal Courtney Frazier. She says Soto's legacy inspires both students and teachers.

"To realize that every little interaction that you have with kids makes a big difference," said Frazier, "and that every little connection you have could really change someone's life."

Compassion, hard work and determination. Those lessons learned in The Camps, now shaping future generations.

"If you have a dream, work hard to fulfill that dream" said Soto. "For the teachers I would say really help the kids to realize that they can achieve whatever they want by continuing their education."