"We had what one would consider to be a stable family. That is until my mother became addicted to crack cocaine." So writes one of the students in an essay for Advanced Placement English at Crenshaw High School in South-Central Los Angeles. At one of the toughest schools in the nation, award-winning reporter, Miles Corwin, decided to take a different look at some of the students that go there. He observed a senior AP English class that is part of a gifted magnet program for an entire year. As he said,
"I had written many stories about gangbangers ... I decided I wanted to ...write about the other children of South-Central, the students who avoid the temptations of the street, who strive for success, who, against all odds, in one of America's most impoverished, crime-ridden neighborhoods, manage to endure, to prevail, to succeed."
What he found out will shock and enlighten you.
The Students"During the years of beatings by her mother, years of being whipped with an extension cord ... and scalded with hot water, school was Olivia's salvation.... (W)hen the beatings were over, she always read her assignments and prepared for her tests."
Olivia is but one of the dozen of gifted AP students that Corwin focuses on throughout his book. Unfortunately, she is not the only one who came from homes teeming with one type of abuse or another. She was placed in foster care and that was in the end no better. But she was smart and able to become enrolled in the gifted program. As I read through Olivia's and other stories I was amazed at the will and conviction of these students. For example, one young man chose to leave gangbanging when The Great Gatsby helped redefine his worldview and a female victim of sexual abuse rose above her past to excel. Many of their lives were chaos outside of school, yet they still had the worries of exams and college applications to deal with. Not all of the students' stories end happily ever after, but all are enlightening and revealing on many levels.