The Next Test

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On average, kids arrive at Manual lagging in reading, but they make up a grade and a half every year they're at the school. (Social studies teacher Santo Nicotera, a fixture at the school, believes teachers could get students reading at the right level if they just had one more year.) According to Pat McQuillan, a University of Colorado professor who's researched the post-busing landscape, the performance of Manual's black and Latino kids has improved relative to the performance of those same groups throughout DPS. And any concerns about rival gangs duking it out in a shared school have not come to pass. The kids who are regularly in class look, well, regular. They're shy about raising their hands to answer questions, they complain about boring classes, they chat whenever they think they can get away with it, they socialize and flirt in the halls, they study -- and most do their best.

Still, those negative perceptions filter in. Many students say they don't like curricula that only Manual uses -- such as the IMP courses -- because those classes somehow feel remedial, even though the IMP has been deemed one of the best curricula in the country by math teachers. And, while faculty members say the portfolio program is not only unusual for a school with Manual's demographics, but rigorous, students regard it as busywork. No other DPS students do portfolios, so they're naturally suspicious as to why they're singled out. Some students even talk about ditching the CSAP test, because everyone expects them to do badly, anyway. (As it turns out, attendance on test day is excellent.)

"Manual always had a bad rep," says teacher Ana Martinez. "Even when there was busing, a lot of people were afraid of how the school was going. It's a great school. Kids try hard, and they know a lot is riding on their shoulders."

The changed makeup of the student population is not the problem, says Manual special-ed teacher Ahmed A. Hakeem. "The problem is we need money and resources. We have dedicated teachers in this building. You have to be dedicated to come to this job every day."

Tuesday: Samierah begins the day with a reprimand from a cranky hall monitor for wearing gloves inside the school, which is not allowed. (Hats aren't allowed, either.) Today is Mismatch Day, so she's also wearing red socks, black pants, a purple shirt and a plaid shirt on top of that. Margaret wears a red shirt, green jacket vest and a blue scarf with light-blue flowers.

Today in IMP 4, the kids are asked to define the period of a function and the amplitude of a function. The girls are more enthusiastic today.

"This is a good class," Margaret remarks.

"The class is small, I like it," Samierah adds.

Weren't these two trying to drop this class the day before?

"Yeah, but I have to stay in it, so I might as well make the best of it," Samierah responds.

They talk about last night's episode of Boston Public, in which a teacher was fired for having a relationship with an eighteen-year-old student. Samierah and Margaret think the punishment was a little tough. "What's the big deal, she was eighteen," says Margaret.

In Brit Lit they watch a scene from the recent Viking epic The Thirteenth Warrior, which dramatizes the evolution of English from old to middle to modern, absorbing influences ranging from the Normans to the Greeks. At the end of the period, everyone in class -- as well as everyone in the school -- is given Tuesday Folders, weekly progress reports that they must take home and have signed.

Samierah takes her folder and heads off to a study hall, populated by the junior and senior student councils, where she spends the period trying to plan a Valentine's Day dance. At Manual, the Valentine's Day dance is put on by the junior class, while the seniors are responsible for Homecoming. Money to stage these events is difficult to come by. So far, Samierah's class has raised only $387 -- over two and a half years.

At lunch, she and her friends try to sell tickets to the Valentine's Day dance. They're going for $5 for singles, $7 for couples. So far, they've only sold twelve tickets. "If there's only twelve people signed up, we're not gonna have a dance," says Lauren Black, another friend.

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T.R. Witcher