Caine Monroy of Caine's Arcade visits Franklin Elementary School.
Caitlin Fitch

Surrounded by dozens of parents and teachers, the students at Franklin Elementary School attempted to change the purpose of the day’s assembly. Getting wild at the notion of Legoland, a potential reward for Franklin’s summer reading program, the children chanted, “Magic! Magic!” But just as quickly as the children demanded it, the stage curtains opened, the headliner appeared, and the show began.

Caine Monroy is a star. At just 8 years old, and with the prospect of a lonesome summer, Caine built a full-sized, playable cardboard arcade on the floor of his father’s business. Using only what he could find in his father’s auto parts shop, he constructed miniature soccer and basketball games and more, and used his own toys as prizes. Then, at 9 years old, a short YouTube film featuring Caine’s Arcade went viral, tallying nearly 5 million views. His story has sparked a worldwide movement to invest in the imaginations of children, which Caine also does through a nonprofit he inspired, Imagination Foundation .

Caine Monroy of Caine's Arcade visits Franklin Elementary School.
Caitlin Fitch

In the year between its creation and fame, however, things did not run so smoothly. Caine’s Arcade was located in an industrial area of East Los Angeles; it had low foot traffic, and Caine was unable to get even a single customer. After hearing this, the students at Franklin Elementary School were keen to ask, “Why didn’t you give up?”

Caine said the answer is simple: “Don’t give up.” He said refusing to quit is “simply a way of living … an attitude.”

Luck eventually found its way Caine, though. On the very last day of summer, a videographer named Nirvan Mullick walked into the store, seeking a door handle for his car. After learning he was Caine’s first and only customer, Mullick organized a flash mob to visit Caine’s Arcade. By the end the day, Caine had become a local celebrity and had earned $140. He would eventually travel to Europe and throughout the United States in order to share his story.

Last Friday, the children at Santa Barbara’s Franklin Elementary School met Caine and had a chance to demonstrate the arcade games they’d invented, using mostly cardboard and tape. They’d thought about prizes, too, deciding they had to be commensurate with the game’s difficulty. After all, throwing an adhesive action figure through a grapefruit-sized hole is a bit more difficult than popping a balloon with a pin-equipped baseball hat.

Angel Quezada, a 10-year-old student at Franklin Elementary, took the time to described the games as “fun” before he was off to play more in the mix of children. Mary Gish, a 5th-grade teacher at Franklin, said she enjoyed the students using their imaginations as part of a group. “I feel this is how school should be,” Gish said. “We should be able to get together and work together.”

Caine Monroy of Caine's Arcade visits Franklin Elementary School and plays in the teachers vs 6th graders basketball game.
Caitlin Fitch

Caine, who is now 12 years old, has greater ambitions than running a cardboard arcade. “I want to become an engineer … an architect,” he said, and he wants to design high-rise buildings in Los Angeles when he’s older.

The elementary students were equally excited. Although they were corralled into the center of the school cafeteria, they still were untamed as they anticipated recess and the opportunity to explore and change the world around them.


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