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The ACE of hearts

by: Submitted photo Henry Li

On the first day of school, I met a new friend.

'Can you take out a piece of paper?' I asked her.

'When does this class get out?' she responded, very loudly. Our teacher told her she was big enough to know for herself.

'I can't see the clock. It's too blurry,' she said.

What about that phone you texted with a few times? I wanted to ask.

Welcome to Academic Enrichment - the only class that was added to the Wilson course list this year.

Academic Enrichment, abbreviated as ACE, is not just for struggling students - although some struggling students are certainly taking it. Geared mainly for the freshman class as a whole, ACE certainly does make an attempt to enrich the academic lives of Wilson's newest students.

On the first Friday of the school year, all the ACE classes were out on the football field competing in a relay race of water balloon tosses and egg relays. The winning class got a pizza party on the school's dime. There's an AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination: a nationally recognized collaborative-learning program) component coming, and there are also peer tutors in every classroom.

That's where I come in.

My teacher, however, has all but assigned me to a girl who moved from Kenya a few years back. She blurts out absurdities, spontaneously cuts class and doesn't do her homework.

Yet she still wants straight As.

'I used to be such a good student,' she always tells me, as if to make up for her behavior in class. But I too have always felt that, underneath her outer façade, there lies a soft and malleable heart. The other day, she requested that we meet before school so she could have help finishing an assignment. She has a little trouble with English still, but day by day she's beginning to try.

Recently, all peer tutors attended a training to bring AVID into ACE classrooms. Peer tutors and students form small groups, focusing on taking Cornell-style notes and asking questions that promote self-discovery of answers. With AVID, Wilson hopes to better support its students as they take more challenging courses and prepare for college.

But, as one of Wilson's science teachers recently related, the formula to academic success encompasses more than tutoring and learning. Of the influx of Somali students to Wilson several years prior, he had this to say: 'The first year they were here, the kids were just unbelievable. It was 'Yes sir,' 'No sir,' 'Right away sir.' But the second year, they were walking in the halls with their pants at their knees saying 'F this' and 'F that.''

What happened?

'The kids just didn't fit in,' he said.

'They couldn't be included among the jocks, the nerds, the thespians and the other cliques. So they went to the gangs. They didn't know any better.'

Community leaders, event leaders and Wilson alike can do better in reaching out to immigrant families and families of students who are struggling.

Too often, they are one and the same.

Senior Serena Johnson and her International Students Club did a great job in making sure foreign exchange students last year felt welcome, but there's still progress to be made. At Wilson's back to school night, only three parents came to a teacher's remedial English class of 20. If we're to close the achievement gap and bring equity to all, things like this shouldn't happen.

And the girl I'm helping? She just made a joke with me for the first time.