Book of the week: Lore of the jungle

17th April 2003 at 01:00

Rafe Esquith, an elementary school teacher in a rundown part of Los Angeles, makes extraordinary efforts to give his pupils a fighting chance of success - and he expects them to do the same.

His students, mostly from poor Hispanic and Korean families who speak English as a second language, if at all, go on to some of the finest universities in the US. Now he has written a book explaining his remarkable story. Geraldine Brennan introduces the first of two extracts

Rafe Esquith has been teaching fifth grade (Year 5) at Hobart Boulevard elementary school in downtown Los Angeles for 17 years (Friday magazine, November 29, 2002). Since 1988, he's also been running Saturday sessions for 50 of his former pupils, whom he coaches through high school, seeing many of them into college.

He started his career in a 300-pupil school in a well-heeled middle-class suburb. He calls this school "Camelot" in his book, There Are No Shortcuts , while Hobart (2,300 pupils, mostly Hispanic, none speaking English at home, 92nbsp; per cent on free school meals) is called "the jungle".

Mr Esquith vowed in 1983 to help his "jungle" pupils, nine and 10-year-olds who live in the midst of LA gang culture, reach level pegging with the "Camelot" kids; There Are No Shortcuts, published in New York next week (April 23),nbsp; tells how he did it and the title is his rallying cry, once displayed on a 50-ft banner across his classroom.

The formula is simple: extra teaching hours (his pupils can be in class from 6.30am to 6pm), high expectations and glimpses of the world that he maintains hard work makes accessible to all. He takes his class to Shakespeare festivals, baseball games and Hollywood Bowl symphony concerts, to Washington DC, Boston and Yosemite National Park.

Later, when past pupils are applying to university, he accompanies them to campus tours and interviews. And the effort pays off - Mr Esquith's students go on to some of the United States' best universities including Northwestern,nbsp; Cornell, Columbia and Berkeley. Of those who continue studying on the Saturday programme, 100 per cent go on to college.

Read the first of two extracts from 'There Are No Shortcuts' by Rafe Esquith in this week's TES

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