Anacostia Voices – Number 1 and Number 2

Anacostia High School

Anacostia Voices is written by Paul Penniman. In 2003, Paul founded Resources for Inner city CHildren, RICH, which provides tutoring and mentoring services to Anacostia High School and the Cesar Chavez Public Charter School-Capitol Hill.

Hi everyone,

This week I want to profile the girls 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 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.

41 Comment

  • I’m confused, achieving a ‘2’ on an AP exam, is considered failing in the eyes of college admissions officers. Colleges do not grant credit for most scores below a 4. Not sure if that fact was written in error?

    • Considering where they came from though and the fact that none of the other students probably even scored that high the colleges will likely take them into consideration. They won’t get college credit but the admissions offices will see them for their potential and ability to rise up.

    • Also the fact that they are even taking an AP class in general

      • I’m surprised DC public schools have all these AP courses. I went to a large suburban high school that was considered pretty good but we didn’t have AP World History or US Government (also, no one in my classes got above a 2 on English). Are DC schools getting competitive with suburban ones finally?

    • It’s very sad. These girls are at the top of their class, and they’re getting what would be considered failing scores on AP exams. There’s no way they are academically prepared for college work.

      • I understand why having a student get a 2 is an accomplishment when everyone else bombs their AP exams year after year. However, it should make school administrators question why they even offer AP at their schools when the students are not up to grade level (forget college- I’m just talking 8th grade proficiency in the senior year of high school as a basic level that DCPS should aim for). College administrators have got to see through this ruse, right? You’re giving these kids false hopes with AP classes that are obviously inappropriate here. Why don’t you just teach them to read and do math at grade level? Let’s start there first. Where am I wrong?

      • Let me guess, you went to a really good school with great teachers so nearly everyone passed the AP exams?
        My best friend in high school was valedictorian and I was third in the class. We took every AP class available but got 2’s on most of the exams (3 out of 5). We tried our best but the classes simply weren’t taught that well. We still did fine in college. She’s a doctor and I’m an engineer with a Masters degree. You can certainly be prepared for college with high AP scores (especially since lots of schools don’t even have AP courses!).

      • They wouldn’t be ready for college work load because they failed the AP exam? I got 1s and 2s on my APs and graduated undergrad with a 3.8 and graduate with a 4.0…

      • When I was in college (a short 5 years ago), I met plenty (PLENTY) of fellow students who never could’ve passed an AP exam (and several people who got 2s on them). I got a 5s on all my AP exams, but on one of them I didn’t even understand one of the questions, just churned out a BS-packed 5-paragraph essay and used a lot of big words. I’d put less stock in an AP exam score than on the girl’s apparently high level of motivation and strong academic record–those will get her a lot further.

        • Some of the fancy schools actually hire tutors to prepare kids for these exams (also the SATs). That’s how they are able to get such good scores on them!

          • I don’t know which “some schools” you’re talking about, but at the school where I teach (and teach an AP class), there are no tutors to prepare kids specifically for the test. There are, however:
            teachers who are blessed with small classes (my cap is 15 students)
            students who are highly motivated to do well and who have been practicing discipline and study skills for years
            parents who are involved in their children’s education
            families that are stable and, on the whole, financially privileged
            safe school environments with virtually zero behavior problems, not even shouting matches
            …all of which contributes to higher scores on the AP. It’s really rare for one of my students to score as low as a 2, but then again, my school is a completely different place from Anacostia. Give these girls some serious credit!

          • I’m thinking of the public schools in some of the wealthy counties near NYC. I went to college with a lots of kids from there whose schools had famous tutors flown in to help them ace the exams. I’m guessing Fairfax County does similar things since their schools are also known to be some of the best in the country.

    • I thought the same thing. But then I remembered that when I was in high school – admittedly a long time ago – we didn’t take AP classes until senior year. The article says this student took the class in 10th grade. Maybe that is part of the explanation for the low score (assuming the AP grading is still 1-5).
      In any event, there is a big issue with kids leaving DC high schools thinking that they are prepared for college and arriving in college to find that they are not prepared. Hopefully their support system will continue beyond getting them into college and be there to get them through college.

      • There’s this notion that AP should be offered to 9th and 10th graders, and they should be encouraged to take it. Which I think is completely absurd. Rare is the 14 or 15 year old who is really ready to take on college-level courses. My experience as an advisor in college is that what is labelled as AP and billed as college-level isn’t, and it leaves these kids horribly unprepared for the true rigors of college work. Tackling second-year classes, and the expectations professors have of students in those classes, when you’re a freshman is often a recipe for stress, tears, frustration, and occasionally outright failure. At least at the college I worked out, if you were taking a 200-level classes, it was assumed you could get through class without hand-holding. 100-level classes eased that transition between high school and college. 200 level meant read your course syllabus so you know what to be reading and when your papers and labs are due, no more “make sure you’re working on your mid-term paper!” reminders.

        • Some colleges or departments give general credits for AP but still require that students take the intro course (at least in the dept they plan to major in). This avoids the problem of gaps in what the AP course covers compared to the university’s course in terms of pre-reqs and also avoids the social/academic maturity issues you point out that happen when you put freshmen into sophomore classes.

    • I’m surprised by how unaware some people are of what the world is like to the disadvantaged. The person who expressed surprise at the AP exam scores is probably the same sort who can’t understand why a first-generation college student would major in a less lucrative liberal arts field. These people may not reach the level of success that you enjoy, but they are way ahead of their peers and family so that should be recognized.

    • Granted, I graduated from HS 15 years ago, but AP test scores were not a part of a college application, just grades and SAT scores. Taking the AP exam was a no-lose situation, at least for college admissions (obviously a bad score would hurt your pocket book, but nothing else). AP test scores were submitted once you were admitted and enrolled in a particular college.

  • I really hope these girls end up somewhere with a strong support system. So much goes into just getting kids like them into college, but there isn’t the same kind of effort to make sure they finish. Most likely, they’ll end up somewhere where their fellow students are much better prepared academically to handle the rigors of college-level work, have stronger family networks, and are probably better financially situated than their peers in Anacostia. That can be daunting. These girls are clearly smart enough to succeed, but it’ll be hard to do it on their own.

    • I’m not sure how it was received around here back when it was first published, but I found “A Hope in the Unseen” pretty eye-opening. Of course, I don’t presume or pretend to now know everything about the challenges of urban education just from having read a book, but it was really striking to see not just the odds that the young man featured in the book had surmounted to get to Brown, but how overwhelming it felt when he first got there. The academic preparation was one thing, but most of us also don’t think that there are loads of small cultural reference points and signifiers that middle-/upper middle-class kids pick up from going to high-caliber schools and being socialized around famlies and friends with high-powered careers and educations. I think often, we talk as though reaching college is the be-all end-all achievement for low-income students, and we forget that it can be a real struggle one they get there. People at the college might not understand where a student has come from; and people back home either aren’t familiar and can’t relate to the college experience OR there is a ton of pressure for the student to succeed and put on a good face because their family or community have vested so much hope and pride and sacrifice in that young person getting to college.

    • I was having this same thought, too. What a tough transition it would be to go from Anacostia to the University of Wisconsin-Madison (where I did my undergrad). Not sure if that is actually a prudent decision if they want to succeed. If you take a guy with scores good enough for Virginia Tech, but invite him to Harvard, where he ends up miserable and failing- doesn’t that just make the student frustrated when he could have been successful elsewhere?

      • You need to read up on the POSSE program. There IS support.

        • I’m familiar with Posse and they do great work, but I think part of Anon 2:44’s overall point may have been that the need for these kinds of support programs far outstrips the supply. Although from what I’ve read recently, some colleges are getting better at financial assistance and academic supports, especially among the Ivy League schools. A few are also re-examining their recruiting because they’ve realized that excellent students from low-income/not-great schools tend not to even apply because they mistakenly assume they wouldn’t get in, couldn’t get enough financial aid, or that the school isn’t a place for “them.”

  • Students who live in a homeless shelter and in a sleazy motel are described as having good support systems. I weep for numbers 3 through whateverhundred who don’t have it that good.
    (And yes, I know, the place where you live might not be as important as the people with whom you live and otherwise surround yourself, but it’s pretty damn important for a child to have a sense of safety and stability at home.)

    • It’s actually really difficult for a family to get placed in a shelter or motel, there are hundreds of families on the waiting list and that’s if you’re a priority one family. Priorities two/three will probably never find shelter through the DC system.

  • The young lady who wants to attend Spelman should reach out to the DC area Alumni chapters. Spelman has a large active, service-oriented network in the DC area. I am pretty sure they would be proud to assist this young lady.

    • This!
      even if they get a hold of your writeup im sure after meeting her they would be willing to help/ sponsor/ something to assist in the process

      As a Morehouse Grad I say that with confidence

  • i’m curious what opportunities amercan/gw/howard/catholic/georgetown has for disadvantage students from DC..

    • GWU and American both do full ride scholarships for students from DC nominated by the guidance counselors. I think there were 9 students who got a full ride last year to GW. Trinity College also does a lot with DC students as well.

  • Great article.
    I hope this puts the city in perspective for people who are constantly bickering over private school admissions, charter schools, and day care costs. At least you have a residence and the time/resources to explore these avenues of advancement for your children. There are young people out there living under circumstances that most of us could never imagine. Circumstances that are so foreign, they do not resemble in any way the lovely bubble that we live in.
    Please let us know if there are scholarship opportunities that we can contribute to for these kids.

    • Apparently it doesn’t if they think a kid who scores a 2 on an AP exam is not doing well academically and is not college material! I guess most of you grew up in Northern VA or some other wealthy suburb? Even rural and semi-rural kids that come from good homes don’t have the opportunities that would allow them to pass an AP exam.

      • really? proof please?

        and why offer / take AP exams if you’re going to fail them?

        • There is no “failing” the exam, just not getting college credit. Even students who score 1s and 2s likely learn a lot about the subject (almost certainly more than in a non-AP course that is less ambitious in what it covers) so when they take the topic in college that will still serve as a good foundation.

        • Well, I’m just basing it on my experience going to high school in semi-rural New Jersey. We didn’t have that many AP classes, and they weren’t much different than non-AP except that they excluded all the “bad” kids. I don’t recall anyone getting above a 2 on the English or History exams, although some of us did well on Calculus because our math teacher was exceptional.

      • andy

        I know this was the 1990s, but when I was growing up rural western America, I found out there was a such thing as AP tests a few weeks before the deadline to sign up. I think I got a 2 in calculus with virtually no special preparation. Our calculus class was in its second year at my HS, in the same room as another small advanced math class and a remedial class. I wonder what it would have been like if someone around us knew what we should have been doing academically to be ready for college.

        All that to say, I’m glad they try to get kids ready for this even if they don’t pass. I think it helps build kids up to be ready for college if they show they are motivated for the challenge.

        And I’m glad these two girls go for it even if they don’t have great success right away. I hope they make it! DC is counting on them and people like them going far!

  • I’m a Spelman graduate myself and I can say there is something about the Spelman experience that is phenomenal. I would love to have the opportunity to reach out to both and especially Number 2 who expressed that as one of her college choices. As a member of the DC Metropolitan Chapter of the National Alumnae Association we have noticed a significant decrease in the number of students that are applying from DC schools. One of the biggest factors is cost and Spelman unfortunately doesn’t offer very many full rides.

  • The College Board describes AP scores as follows:

    •5 – Extremely well qualified to receive college credit
    •4 – Well qualified to receive college credit
    •3 – Qualified to receive college credit
    •2 – Possibly qualified to receive college credit
    •1 – No recommendation to receive college credit

    It is also not true that “colleges do not grant credit for most scores below a 4.0” The large majority of colleges give credit for a 3; only the elite colleges require a 4.

    Bottom line: a 2 isn’t terrible. Many top students in many fine suburban high schools find themselves getting 2s on at least some of their AP exams, and they go on to do quite well in college. Give credit to these Anacostia girls when due.

    • Thanks for posting this. It’s a useful reminder of what the “A” in AP stands for – “Advanced.” AP exams determine whether you know enough about a subject to get college credit for it, not whether you learned the subject to the degree appropriate for a high school student. The fact that a 10th grader knows a subject well enough to “possibly” get college credit for it is pretty impressive to me.

      • +1
        In my school only about 15 kids out of a class of about 400 were even eligible to take AP classes.

      • Emmaleigh504

        +1 I didn’t score high enough on placement tests to even get to take any AP classes and I did just fine in college and grad school. I’m even gainfully employed!

  • For the student who is interested in Spelman: I would highly recommend she look at selective women’s colleges in general–some of them (Smith, Mount Holyoke etc) do have very generous financial aid for young women from these kinds of backgrounds and like Spelman, alum networks here in DC are big.

  • I volunteered on behalf of my alma mater at the college fair at the KIPP school in Anacostia this Fall. I was impressed with many of the kids I met. Someone from the school told us that only 3% of kids from Anacostia graduate from college. These two students appear to have the desire to beat those odds.

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