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Same teacher, different class means different results “Keep your eyes on the magic wand,” Melanie Perkins tells her students as she points to the words on her oversized book. “Let’s read the title together. It’s One Hungry Monster. Let’s use our best monster voices.” The students read and growl simulta- neously, following the wand. If there’s one thing Perkins knows how to do extremely well, it’s teaching young children. She is enthusiastic, nurturing and patient, and makes learning enjoy- able for her 24 students at Nystrom Ele- mentary School in Richmond. Perkins did not always teach at Ny- strom, a school in Program Improvement facing sanctions under No Child Left Be- below: United Teachers of Richmond member Melanie Perkins takes her students through a class at Nystrom Elementary School. hind. She began her teaching career in the affluent community of Walnut Creek. Switching to Nystrom was a matter of choice; she threw tenure to the wind be- cause she wanted to go where she was most needed. In Walnut Creek her students scored in the high 800s or low 900s on STAR tests. But after 18 years, she needed a challenge. At the urging of a friend, she visited Nystrom. The minute she walked in, she knew she was meant to teach there. And she’s remained at the low-in- come school for the past four years. It is the challenge she wanted and then some. Nearly all of her students are English learners who live in poverty. Many come to school hungry. They live in a commu- nity plagued by gang violence. “On my first day of school, there was a drive-by shooting on the street behind the school,” recalls Perkins, a member of United Teachers of Richmond. “There were two bullets on the playground where the kids have recess. It happens here a lot. One family told me that they have spent the night in the bathtub be- cause they are afraid of bullets coming into the house.” Despite working harder than ever, the veteran teacher wasn’t the least bit sur- prised when students at her new school missed the 800 mark in STAR test results. They scored much lower, in fact, than her students in Walnut Creek. And despite what she is hearing from politicians, her teaching skills are not the reason, says Perkins. “I’m absolutely the same teacher I was in Walnut Creek,” says Perkins. “But stu- dents here have a much harder time and come to school much less prepared. They are not proficient in English. Their first language may be Spanish, Chinese or Ar- abic. They have limited vocabulary and limited experiences. Most have not been 10 California Educator | november 2009

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