When the bell rings at the start of fifth period, there’s one teacher, young, white, and female, and seven students, all African-American boys, present in Ms. Skibbons’ freshman English class. Seconds later three African-American girls dash in breathlessly, stopping to sign the ‘tardy’ list posted at the door.

"Hurry up and write down tonight’s homework, you guys," Ms. Skibbons instructs her students. "Your mentors will be here in a minute."

can’t! I broke my nail," one girl moans. At twenty-three, blonde and willowy, Heather Skibbons looks more like a high school senior than a high school teacher, but her stern glance leaves little doubt as to who, exactly, is in charge here. Duly warned, the girl and her classmates pull out their notebooks and start copying what’s written on the board.

Read to p. 49 in Betsey Brown. Write 3 questions you have about the reading.

EXTRA CREDIT: 1 page–what is RESPECT?

Ten Berkeley High seniors who volunteer as tutors file into the room. Each takes a seat beside a freshman. "We’re going to do a getting-to-know you activity. I want you to write questions back and forth to your mentor," Ms. Skibbons says. "It’s a silent activity," she adds firmly.

"Do you like Berkeley High?" writes Kandis Session, a round-faced, round-bodied freshman girl, in perfectly formed purple letters. She rips the page out of her binder, smiles at the tall, blonde, crew-cut senior beside her, and hands it to him.

"Yes I do the work is hard but when you get passed that, I have a good time," he scrawls with a stubby pencil. "What is your favorite kind of car?"

"Eclipses and Navergator," writes Kandis.

As the students and their mentors continue passing notes to each other, Heather Skibbons circulates with grade book in hand, stopping to confer quietly with each freshman. "How’s it going at your dad’s this week, Kandis? Have you spent any time with your mom?" "Great job on your journal, David. You should try writing poetry–you’d be great at it." Skibbons speaks to her students intimately, lovingly, her hands resting easily on their shoulders, her eyes seeking out their eyes.

At the back of the room I sit, stunned. How can Heather Skibbons be a teacher already? I’ve known her since she was a freshman at Berkeley High herself: a friend of my son’s, a high-achieving student horrified, as many of their crowd were, by the disparity in the resources available to the school’s white, middle-class kids versus its poor kids of color. It seems just yesterday Heather went off to U.C. Santa Cruz to study psychology, vowing to come back to Berkeley High some day to make it a more equitable school. And now–equipped only with a hastily arranged emergency credential and the best of intentions–here she is, doing just that.

But what shocks me even more is that I’m seeing, in this classroom, what I’ve never seen in the fifteen years I’ve been observing and volunteering at this school–first as a journalist, then as a mother of two students, most recently last year when I was here every day writing my book Class Dismissed about the ‘savage inequalities’ at Berkeley High, and in America. The kids in this room precisely fit the profile of the students that Berkeley High, and America, have never quite decided how (or whether) to educate: most of them African-American males; many of them living in the harshest of family situations or not with their families at all; every one of them at risk–already, in their first year of high school–of failing out of high school.

Over the years I’ve seen this school throw one failed remedy after another at kids like these: after-school tutoring, buddy systems, stricter tardy and attendance policies, waves of zero-tolerance expulsions. So I’m thrilled to see these kids being given, here, what study after study has shown they need: a student-teacher ratio that makes learning not only possible, but likely. In-class, one-on-one student mentors. A teacher who knows and cares about her students and their families–broken nails, messy home lives, multiple guardians and all.

Still, I wonder: will what I’m seeing here prove to be too good to be true–or not as good as it looks? Can a novice teacher like Heather–whose job description adds to the standard teacher overload such extras as home visits, frequent phone calls, and providing access to support services to ten families in varying states of need–do for these kids what far more experienced teachers have failed, all these years, to do? Can a girl like Kandis, who has flunked more classes than she’s passed in her fourteen years; whose troubled home life has her moving from house to house, be guided past ‘getting-to-know-you exercises’ to textbook learning, and graduation? And: how can it be that this level of care, attention, and funding, normally reserved for elite, wealthy white kids, is being heaped upon the very group of kids this school–and this nation–has historically left behind?

* * *

The answer is PCAD: Parents of Children of African Descent. PCAD was formed near the end of the first semester of the ’00-‘01 school year, when a group of Berkeley High parents learned that fully half of the school’s three hundred African-American ninth graders were already failing English, math, and/or history.

The parents knew all too well just how predictable that outcome was–at Berkeley High, and in the nation. Calling the racial achievement gap "the most important educational challenge for the United States," a 1999 national study by the College Board found only 17 percent of black and 24 percent of Latino high school seniors to be proficient in reading, 4 percent of black students to be proficient in both math and science, and no black students and 1 percent of Latinos to be advanced in those subjects. Other national research has shown that black males are four more likely than white males to be suspended or expelled from school, and nine more likely to be placed in special education classes. The consequences of these statistics are grim: in America today, one in three young African-American men is currently either in jail, on probation, or on parole. The Justice Department now projects that one in four African-American males born in the 1990’s will end up in prison at some time in his life.

Although the Berkeley Unified School District was first in the nation to voluntarily desegregate its schools in 1968, and although the New York labeled Berkeley High "the most integrated high school in America," with a 3200-student population that’s 37 percent African-American, 37 percent white, 11 percent Latino, 10 percent Asian and 5 percent multiracial, African-American students don’t fare much better here. In June of 2000, what had long been Berkeley’s ‘dirty little secret’ was made public in a study by the U.C. Berkeley-sponsored Diversity Project. As had been true for decades, the four-year study found that student achievement at Berkeley’s only public high school was lowest among low-income African-American and Latino students, and highest among affluent whites.

While 87% of the students in Honors Geometry (the highest 9th grade math track) were white, 83% of students in Math A (the lowest track) were African-American. Of the 140 black male freshmen and 140 white male freshmen in the class of 2000, 18 of the black males graduated with qualifications for admission to a four-year college, compared to 111 of the whites. And while large numbers of white Berkeley High seniors headed off to Ivy League colleges, six out of ten black male students dropped out, flunked out, or otherwise disappeared before their senior year.

Armed with the Diversity Project statistics; their task made more urgent by the knowledge that their children would be the first graduating class to face California’s exit exam in 2004, the PCAD Steering Committee approached principal Frank Lynch just before Christmas break. "We can’t let this happen again–not for one more semester, not to our kids," they told him. Lynch challenged the parents to come up with a plan, and they spent Christmas break doing exactly that.

On Martin Luther King Day, PCAD convened its first community meeting: a ‘Stone Soup Luncheon’ featuring a shared meal made from the carrots, yams, and onions contributed, as PCAD’s invitation had requested, by the people who showed up: an animated crowd of 75 African-American, Asian, Latino, and white parents, grandparents, students, and teachers, as well as the Mayor’s Chief of Staff, the county’s Superintendent of Schools, and representatives of the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, and the school board and City Council.

While the stew simmered in the kitchen, parent Katrina Scott-George summarized the PCAD Intervention Plan. Freshmen failing two or more core subjects would be invited to apply to an ‘alternative learning community’ within Berkeley High. Those students would reenter 9th grade, this time in small classes, supported by student mentors and consistent tutoring, and taught by teachers hand-picked for their commitment to improving the achievement of at-risk students. Their school year would be extended through the summer, so they'd have a chance to catch up with their peers and be ready for 10th grade by September.

Crucial to the plan, Scott-George, explained, was the role of adults in these students’ lives. "We want to create parent demand for education," she emphasized. "We want to build a network of parents reaching out to parents; supporting their kids’ education, making the school respond to their kids’ needs." Toward that end, each student in the PCAD program would be assigned an adult ‘learning partner,’ recruited from his or her family, school, or community. Parents and guardians would sign contracts requiring them to respond promptly to teachers’ calls home. A "WE CARE" campaign would be launched to counter what PCAD called "the sub-culture among African-American and Latino students that often penalizes success."

And all of this, Scott-George announced unblinkingly, must happen by the start of the new semester two weeks later: student candidates and their families identified, assessed, and admitted; teachers, mentors, and learning partners recruited and trained; classrooms located; curricula developed. Oh, and half a million dollars raised, somehow, to pay for it all.

The PCAD spirit proved infectious. As the savory ‘stone soup’ was served, parents, politicians and neighbors demonstrated rare unity of purpose, volunteering to become Learning Partners, to look for classroom space, to hold fundraisers, to write checks. The meeting ended on a high note, which resounded through the community a few days later when the school board, declaring the Berkeley High achievement gap an emergency, allocated $100,000 from its 3% Emergency Reserve Fund. The city of Berkeley kicked in $40,000 more from their mid-year budget, and private donors brought the total up to $184,000. It was far less than PCAD needed to help all the failing freshmen, but enough to make a start.

Operating on too little money and even less sleep, the PCAD parents spent the next two weeks frantically hiring teachers (three of the six, like Heather Skibbons, uncredentialed recent Berkeley High graduates), borrowing classrooms (the chronic space shortage at Berkeley High meant the new program’s teachers would have to change rooms every period), and recruiting students (a labor-intensive process of contacting each failing student’s home, then convincing an adult in each student’s life to commit to the Learning Partner contract).

* * *

Hard to believe, but true: on the first day of second semester, fifty ninth-graders–precisely the number who had applied to be there–showed up at 8 a.m. ready to start their new classes. Many of them were at Berkeley High on time for the first time, accompanied here by their parents, grandparents, or guardians for the first time. Greeting them with forms to fill out, hugs, and clearly stated ground rules were their new teachers, who demonstrated with every word and gesture that they were there not because they got stuck with the toughest kids in the school, but because they wanted to teach these kids.

Heather Skibbons was one of them. Back in Berkeley after her post-college stint assistant teaching at-risk kids in New York, she heard about the PCAD program from a former Berkeley High classmate who was one of its first recruits. "I got a lot out of Berkeley High, and I always thought I’d come back," Skibbons told me soon after taking the job. "I really enjoy working with this particular group of kids. So when the opportunity presented itself, I took it."

The particulars were explained to Skibbons during her one and only interview for the job: along with the other non-credentialed teachers, she would need to apply for an emergency credential. The salary would be the standard for a starting teacher: $28,000. And although the class sizes would be small, the task would be big. The five teachers in the PCAD program would be responsible for the life needs as well as the academic needs of ten students apiece. Each of the 50 students, their families, their progress, and their problems would be discussed in all-staff meetings every Friday afternoon, and with families in weekly phone calls home. The teachers would also be expected to build relationships with the families, and to spend out-of-school time with their students as needed.

"I know that it takes that much to help kids who come into high school with so little," Skibbons said. "I don’t think I could work at this pace forever–and I’m not sure I could do it at all if I had kids of my own, like Katrina. But all the PCAD teachers are committed to giving it everything we’ve got, to see if we can make a real difference with these kids in a relatively short period of time."

The students spent their first week in orientation sessions, attended by visiting city officials and community well-wishers as well as parents and guardians. When a student disrupted the class, there were enough adults present so that one or two could take the child aside and administer swift consequences while the class goes on. When the kids got hungry, there was food donated by local businesses. When a fight broke out, everything stopped for a conversation about values, and leadership, and what it means to create a new community, a new school culture. The students named their program Rebound, likening themselves to "the basketball player who goes after the missed shot and gets off a new one."

It’s like a new start for ninth graders who messed up," 14-year-old Kandis Session tells me during her fourth week in Rebound, as she’s headed for lunch with her favorite teacher, Ms. Skibbons. "A lot of kids got up here to high school and started cutting school and stuff. I did that. But since I got in this program I want to go to school!"

Kandis attributes her lifelong history of D’s and F’s mostly to problems at home: her difficulties adjusting to her parents’ separation, her uneasy relationship with her stepfather–and to what she calls "black kids’ social scene at school." "The white kids are more serious about going to college," she says. "Their parents are big doctors and stuff like that, so they’re thinking, ‘let me go be a big doctor.’ A lot of African-American kids’ parents are on drugs or in jail, so they think they have more interesting things to do than going to college–like selling drugs, making quick money. That takes us off-track of our schoolwork." Kandis is equally clear about why Rebound is helping, citing the smaller classes and stronger relationships with teachers, especially hers with Heather Skibbons.

"We have the same birthday, so we have a special bond," Kandis says. "Ms. Skibbons is more like a friend than a teacher. I can talk to her about anything. Plus she’ll come to me and say, ‘You need to come in after school to work on your essay.’ Then she’ll just walk away, so I can’t argue–I just have to do it." Kandis beams her radiant smile. "If they changed the whole Berkeley High to Rebound," she declares, "the whole school would pass."

Kandis is one of several Rebound students whose living situations changed after joining the program. A few students, whose previously undisclosed abuse or neglect came to light, were sent to foster care or group homes. Some moved in with relatives. Kandis moved from her mom’s house to her dad’s, in hopes that she’d be better able to focus on her schoolwork.

"When we first signed her up it was a commitment for all of us: me, Kandis, the teachers," Kenneth Session tells me. "Unfortunately I haven’t been able to be as involved as I’d like–I’m exhausted from working most of the time. But Rebound has helped Kandis tremendously. Her study habits are better. Her homework is always done now. She gets a lot of help, even when I don’t have time to help her.

"Kandis is a very intelligent little girl," her dad says. "She may not be book smart, but she gets things figured out. If you keep the pressure on her she’ll come out with flying colors. That’s what Rebound does for her–even when I can’t."

* * *

By the end of Rebound’s first month, it’s too soon to know how successful the program will be. Much of what happens in its meetings and classrooms isn’t pretty: some kids gets distracted, get in fights, get suspended; some parents distrust the teachers, don’t show up for meetings, don’t return the teachers’ calls. The PCAD Steering Committee, exhausted by their efforts even before Rebound’s first day, are still working late into the night to keep the program afloat. The Rebound teachers spend their days struggling to engage kids who have never been taught successfully in a classroom, and their nights and weekends building relationships with families who have never had reason to trust a school or a teacher. The upper class mentors have been sent away because the classrooms are too chaotic, the curriculum too undefined, for them to be of use.

"It was really hard and really depressing to be there," says 17-year-old Ramona Gonzalez, a Berkeley High junior who volunteered to be a Rebound mentor because "I wanted to see if I should get my friends to protest the program or not–I thought it sounded like typical Berkeley crap: militant parents who weren’t taking responsibility for their kids demanding stuff from the district." Although a few days in Rebound changed her mind–"Thank God someone stepped in for those kids"–Ramona says she was shocked by the students’ level of need. "The kids didn’t have any study skills or writing skills. I don’t know how the junior highs let them go when they’re reading at fourth-grade level! The Rebound teachers are really cool, ambitious, and smart, but there was no structure. We’d just go in there and read to the kids every day. Finally the teachers told us we should come back in a couple of weeks, after they get their classes in hand. At first we were mad, but now they’re teaching us cool stuff: how to find out the grade level of a book, how to do a reading record. We’re learning a lot, so we’ll be prepared when they’re ready for us to come back."

One month in, Heather Skibbons acknowledges that her job is even more challenging than she’d expected it to be. Like Ramona, Skibbons says she’s "shocked" by the academic and emotional deficits of her students, many of whom are reading at grade-school levels, and equally shocked by the ways in which they continue to feel let down by the larger school. "When I ask the kids what’s needed at Berkeley High, the answer I get is more discipline, more security. My students say, ‘The school makes it so easy for us to fail when we walk out past the security guards and no one stops us.’" Skibbons grins wryly. "When I was a student here, I hated any kind of discipline. But to teach this group of kids–to make them feel like the adults care if they go to class or not–that’s exactly what’s desperately needed."

Although she calls her job "the most rewarding work I’ve ever done," it’s also more time-consuming than Skibbons could have imagined. When several of her female students seemed especially depressed one week, she took them to the marina that weekend. When Kandis was having a hard time at home, Ms. Skibbons took her for a Sunday hike. "The payoff is, I’m having relationships with people I never would have otherwise met at all," she says.

Despite its many flaws, when I consider all the ‘achievement gap’ programs that have come and gone at Berkeley High and across the country, Rebound looks to me like Berkeley High’s best shot ever. Research has repeatedly shown that parent involvement, small class size, and committed teachers are crucial to at-risk students’ success, and Rebound is the first program I’ve seen that’s built on that foundation. Already neighboring Oakland is considering adopting a similar plan, and national school reform organizations have begun to take notice.

But the most hopeful signs of all: not one of the students has left the program, and every parent is talking to at least one Rebound teacher at least once a week–many of them more involved, now, in their kids’ education than they’ve ever been. "Our plan really is working," Katrina Scott-George tells me in early March. A former engineer, mother of two, and one of the two African-American teachers Rebound was able to recruit on such short notice, Scott-George stepped in last-minute as the Rebound Algebra teacher, while continuing to serve on the PCAD Steering Committee. "There’s such a history of distrust of Berkeley High by African-American parents. They haven’t felt the school is interested in educating their children, so it’s been hard for them to present school positively to their children. Rebound is causing parents of color to believe that with their own advocacy of their own children, a school can work on their behalf. Long-term, that’s where our greatest hope lies."

May-June 2001

It’s a warm night in mid-May, and thirty Rebound parents, students, and teachers are gathered in the same meeting room where PCAD held its first public gathering. Heather Skibbons is taking the night off; four months into her new job, she’s learning to pace herself. Kenneth Session is still at work; Kandis is at her aunt’s house, doing her homework and waiting for her dad to pick her up. "Before we start working on our students’ class schedules for the fall," Katrina Scott-George says, "Tell us: what’s going well? What’s not?"

"I’m getting a lot of contact from the teachers," a mother says. "That’s working really well for me."

"It seems like Taliah’s trying harder," says another mother. "She’s doing her homework. And she expresses herself better. She thinks before she talks."

I’m at the point of frustration," says a young man, the uncle of a Rebound student. "My kid gets dropped off at eight a.m. every day, but he’s missing first and second period every day."

"Francisco’s teacher called me and told me he’s goofing off in class," says the only Latina in the room. "I told him, if you don’t shape up your dad’s gonna go sit in that class with you."

Laughter ripples around the room. "It’s hard, ‘cause we all work," says a mother. "But maybe the parents need to take turns in the classes. Make sure the kids know we got our eyes on them."

You know you’re always welcome," Scott-George replies. She glances at her watch, then says, "Okay. Let’s get to work on our students’ schedules." She distributes Class Request forms, projects a sample form onto the wall, and leads the Rebound parents through the complex process of choosing the right classes and the right teachers from among the hundreds listed in the inch-thick Berkeley High catalog. "We need to be very careful that our students get the credits they need to graduate," she tells the parents. "If we’re not, the counselors will fill their schedules with easy classes–proctoring, Ethnic Cooking, stuff that’s fun but don’t meet graduation requirements. You must demand time with a counselor to make a four-year plan for your student. Doing that sends a message to the student and to the school.

"You need to choose your student’s teachers," Scott-George continues. "The students who are ‘connected’ at Berkeley High talk among themselves. You should know that their parents are having this conversation right now." She passes out a sheaf of papers. "This is a list of the teachers who took part in the Diversity Project. We know these teachers are concerned with the issues that face our kids."

An hour later, with the teachers’ help, each parent has completed and signed his or her child’s fall schedule. "I know we’re all tired," Scott-George says then, "but before we go I want to give you a progress report on our program." The parents sit up expectantly.

"We have fifty students still with us," she reports. "Fifteen still have two or more F’s. Six or seven have major attendance problems; they don’t attend most of their classes. The good news is, we have 35 students who were failing and are now passing. We have several getting straight A’s. Some students have made a complete turnaround.

"A major strength is the strong bonds we’re forming between the families, the program, and the community. We’ve had social service agencies do interviews and screening with every student, so we understand their non-academic needs. We’ve been able to connect them with the services they need: housing, psychological support, eyeglasses, treatment for medical problems. We’ve had two incidents involving the police, and four significant interventions in our students’ homes–one in the middle of the night. Two students have been placed into foster care."

"The teachers have been exceptional," Scott-George adds. "The way they’re working is not sustainable, but it’s worth it. I had students on Friday getting down on their classmates for not doing their homework!" Scott-George lets this triumph sink in. "We’re turning them around," she says, "one by one."

"That’s our boy she’s talking about," David White’s mother, Renee, whispers to her husband, David Senior. David’s parents exchange a triumphant smile as they gather their things to go.

* * *

"My mother signed me up for Rebound ‘cause at the end of the first semester I just dropped," says David White, a tall, lanky, dark-complected fourteen-year-old who still wears basketball jerseys over his sagging jeans, although his first semester’s grades disqualified him from the Berkeley High team. "I used to be good at math, but when I got to Berkeley High I even failed that. I kept tryin’ to tell my Algebra teacher I’d already taken that class, I needed to move up to Geometry. But by the time I got her to believe me, I’d quit doing my homework or paying attention in class. I got all F’s and C’s. I ain’t never had a bad report card like that before."

And now? I ask. David’s handsome face glows. "Straight A’s," he says proudly.

Unlike Kandis, David did well in school, for the most part, until he came to Berkeley High. His parents insisted on it. When David’s mom felt that his elementary school teachers were disciplining him unfairly, she made herself a presence at his school. When his grades started falling in 7th grade, she sent him to Catholic school until he caught up. When his grades plummeted again in 9th, she got him into Rebound. The Whites’ top priority is their four children’s’ education, and they enforce that priority strictly: David’s dad keeps his kids ‘on punishment’ unless they bring home straight A’s.

David attributes his success in Rebound, more than anything else, to the accountability his teachers demand. "Katrina writes things on my paper like ‘You makin’ careless mistakes.’ If I don’t turn my homework in to Ms. Skibbons, she makes me bring it the next day, then she gives me half-credit. They know I can do better work than I’m doing. That keeps me on track."

Heather Skibbons calls it ‘the particular challenge of Rebound" to keep kids on track whose skills vary dramatically. "Some of the kids are on par with 9th grade; others have huge gaps in reading and writing," she says. "The discipline is really tough, too…the outside forces that influence these kids are so strong. A lot of them have friends who hang out on campus all day and never go to class. Some of them go home to families that are on drugs. I had one kid who was homeless for a while. A lot of them have to take care of their little brothers and sisters. By and large, the ones who do the best," Skibbons concludes, "tend to be the ones like David, who have incredibly supportive families."

David’s mom, a Berkeley High graduate herself, says Rebound has given back to her son what his previous years in school took away. "It’s bad to have to say this, but there’s a racial thing going on in the schools, especially for the boys," she says. "David went from a highly confident, I-can-do-anything kid to a quiet, withdrawn, not-wanting-to-do-anything kid. But since he’s been in Rebound he’s walking taller. He comes home and actually talks about school. The difference is his relationship with his teachers. They’re showing an interest in him. These teachers are giving him respect and he’s feeding off of that."

Ms. White says her husband has been more involved in Rebound than he’s ever been in their kids’ school lives before. "Even those hard-life kids can succeed with this program," she says. "My only worry is, what’s going to happen when they go back into the mainstream next year–when they’re back with the large classroom sizes and the people who don’t care about them?"

As the school year draws to a close, this turns out to be the $64,000 question. Because it’s not only this year’s Rebound kids who will be thrown back into the school that has already failed them. It’s next year’s crop of 9th graders–and all of Berkeley High’s 9th graders to come–as well.

* * *

"Rebound will not continue next year," Katrina Scott-George tells me. "That was the original plan, and that’s what PCAD wants." She takes in my surprised expression, then explains, "The PCAD Intervention Plan is not about a single program like Rebound. We were working to try and change how students are educated, to provide a model for student-family-school collaboration. We provided that model. What the district will do with what we’ve given them remains to be seen."

After all the work she’s put into Rebound–as a parent, a teacher, an activist–I’m taken aback by Scott-George’s sanguine response to the program’s demise. "Doing programs for small groups of students doesn’t fundamentally affect the school’s failure to educate all of its students," she says. "Change on a bigger scale can only come about through creating parent demand for education. That’s why our plan for next year is to build on this group of parents we’ve established strong connections with."

Maybe if the school and the district had embraced the Rebound program as its own, Scott-George says, PCAD would have been able to focus on its primary task: turning parents into activist advocates for their kids. But that, she says, didn’t happen. Despite repeated invitations to visit Rebound classes, and to draw on Rebound teachers as resources for working with at-risk kids, Scott-George claims, administrators never showed up, and mainstream teachers didn’t ask questions. Despite (or perhaps, because of) its successes as well as its failures, Rebound remained an isolated island in the big sea of Berkeley High.

Principal Frank Lynch agrees that "On a national level, Rebound is a model." But he denies that the school and the district withheld their full support. "The Rebound folks are entitled to their feelings," he says, "but the fact remains that the program is in existence and that without support from everyone, things would have been difficult. Administrators have observed Rebound classes. The program will not be replicated as is, but a form of Rebound will exist next year."

When I ask what form that might take, Lynch answers, "We’ll build a program into our 9th grade program that will identify students in need of help in the core curriculum areas." Lynch offers no further specifics, and I’m left wondering what will be done for the students thus identified. After all, the problem has never been in identifying failing students; the challenge, which Rebound tackled, has been to save them from failure.

I ask Scott-George how successfully Rebound has met that challenge. "About 25% of our students have been significantly turned around," she says. "They have the tools that will allow them to be successful: the emotional ability, the study skills, the basic skills in math and English. Another group, about two-thirds of the kids, have made some kind of commitment to their own education. They might not have all the basic skills, but we can see huge changes in them. More than half of our students are going to be on track for graduation by the end of the summer."

Scott-George pauses, then adds, "The traditional measurement system is not based on the growth of a child. I have one student who’s gone from sitting in class high and catatonic, to asking for extra credit, coming in early to find out what grade he got. His new attitude hasn’t showed up in his grades yet, and it won’t for a while. But it’s huge change. We’ve definitely created for these kids a place where they’ve felt there’s hope for themselves. By that measurement, we’ve been very successful."

But will that success carry over to next year? When I ask Kandis Session how she thinks the Rebound kids will do, she responds with characteristic optimism. "Everybody’s gonna do better, unless they get sidetracked," she says. "We’ll have the techniques down. Plus, we got good and sick of doing everything over again this year. Next year is where it all counts to get into college. So I have to do good."

David White’s prediction is less positive. "Unless I have teachers like Rebound teachers," he says, "I’m gonna have to keep going to my teachers till it gets on their nerves and they want to help me." He doodles on a page of his journal, beneath where Ms. Skibbons has written, "Thanks for sharing, David! You totally made me laugh." And then he sighs deeply. "I wish there was still gonna be a Rebound for us to be in next year," he says.

But there won’t be a Rebound program at Berkeley High next year. There won’t be Heather Skibbons, taking lonely girls out on the weekends–she’ll be a counselor at an alternative camp for at-risk inner-city kids this summer, then traveling to Mexico to become fluent in Spanish. "My new thing is thinking of my life in terms of theme, not career," she says. "My themes are youth and justice. I’ll try on a bunch more things, but I can definitely see coming back to teaching."

Katrina Scott-George will be around Berkeley High, but not as a teacher; she’ll go back to being an engineer, a parent, and PCAD activist. "For parents who believe that the school doesn’t have the interests of their children at heart, PCAD became the intermediary between the parents and the school," she says. "We’ll continue to play that role next year."

And, there will be this at Berkeley High next year: 750 freshmen arriving in September with such staggeringly divergent educational, emotional, financial, and physical needs, family situations, and aspirations that they will render meaningless the concept of the ‘level playing field’ that is the stated mission of public education.

There will be this, too: a city, a school district, and a high school mortified, embarrassed, and paralyzed by the racial and economic divisions exposed by that disparity. And perhaps–if PCAD’s hard work and determination are well-founded; if the lessons and the triumphs of Rebound are accepted and absorbed–there will also be parents ready, willing, and able to fight for their children’s education.