This is about the students at Anacostia High School with the top two GPA’s, whom I’ll call “Number 1” and “Number 2.” Number 1 came to Anacostia from another school in town and immediately stood out for her inquisitiveness and hard work. It is a cliché to say the first few words that come to mind when describing her, but those words are “relentless,” “fearless,” and “curious.” She plays volleyball and runs cross-country during the same seasons. Her teachers and coaches love her, and if she does not get a POSSE scholarship, www.possefoundation.org, she will almost assuredly get another scholarship somewhere. POSSE scholars in the Washington, D.C. area attend one of six colleges: University of Rochester, University of the South at Sewanee, Bucknell University, Grinnell College, Lafayette College, and Wisconsin-Madison. She had virtually the highest SAT scores in her class (along with Travis, whom you might remember from earlier in the fall), but she decided to take our organization’s SAT class this fall and take the test two more times.
Number 2 is equally dogged, but perhaps less disciplined, than Number 1. She takes hard courses every year. In the tenth grade she was one of two students to get as high as a ‘2’ on the World History Advanced Placement Exam. (Travis was the other.) She is taking Advanced Placement English Language now and Advanced Placement U.S. Government. If calculus or physics were offered at the school, Number 2 would be there. She has always aspired to Spelman College, and she will be applying to a few other selective colleges as well. The school does not have a strong record of students’ gaining admission to selective colleges and universities—only one student in the last three years has gone off to a college that admits fewer than half of its applicants--but it is a real possibility for both Number 1 and Number 2.
A few weeks ago, Number 1, Number 2, and about eight other kids all got together with their college mentors at the local St. Philip’s Church here in Anacostia. The kids all looked at their latest transcripts and resumed work they had begun on their college lists and college essays. Number 1 and Number 2 got into a shouting match over who was going to end up Number 1 or Number 2. The yelling got vicious and personal, and eventually I had to send Number 2 home. They apologized to each other a couple of days later. Their assistant principal and I agreed it was a good thing they weren’t fighting over a boy.
I thought that week as I do now: If only Number 1 and Number 2 knew how much they had in common. Out of the top 10 students in the class, four were forced to move in the past year against their will, either because of an unethical landlord or because the parents could no longer pay the rent. Number 1 now lives, with her brother and mother, in a shelter that used to be D.C. General Hospital. When I dropped her off a couple of weeks ago, a group of sad faces welcomed her home—not because of who Number 1 is, but because the faces are sad all the time. There is no refrigeration at the shelter, so Number 1 will often ask me for healthy, not perishable snacks so she can get through the evening and morning without getting too hungry.
Both girls had to move last spring. All Number 2 initially knew of her address was New York Avenue, NE. It wasn’t an address she wanted to necessarily remember. But there she lives, at the Days Inn near Bladensburg Rd, NE, in slightly better digs than Number 1, with her sister and mother, and a long bus ride from Anacostia. She does all her shopping at the Dunkin Donuts, which doubles as the gas station’s convenience store. She finally let me see where she lives earlier this month, but she has yet to tell her boyfriend her circumstances.
Thanks to their support systems, we don’t have to worry too much about Numbers 1 and 2. Clearly they will have some issues of conflict as they develop independence from their families but still long to belong to their families. But that is a little way off. I just can’t wait to see which colleges are lucky enough to get them next fall.