Before his operation, Clayton Rogers had an eye for trouble. The sixth grader at Langdon Elementary School was perpetually peevish, the kind of student who starts teachers dreaming of summer vacation in September.
"Clyton had what you might call behavior difficulties," said Ernest Mercer, the principal of the school in Northeast Washington. Clayton's classmates put it more bluntly.
"He was bad," said 12-year-old Terrie Morgan. "Always getting in fights."
But that was the old Clayton Rogers, a 12-year-old who was cross-eyed and cross because of it. Clayton's left eye suffered from impaired vision, which hindered his learning ability. What was worse, that same eye was turned inward and seemed to be always staring at the bridge of his nose. It was an obvious invitation to adolescent cruelty. And Clayton rarely let a slight go unchallenged.
"When people said stuff, I just wanted to punch them," said Clayton last week. But he said it sweetly. This was the new Clayton, a kid with eyes straight ahead and a smile that would challenge a jack-o-lantern's. "Things look a lot better now."
Clayton's transformation from cross-eyed bad boy to a normally mischievous sixth grader was the result of a teacher's persistence, a District health clinic's diagnosis and a successful operation at Children's Hospital in Febuary.
"The operation was not supposed to help his sight -- it was only to change his looks," said Margaret Washington, Clayton's teacher and the one who persisted in getting Clayton professional help. "We were hoping for something small and we got something big."
Actually, doctors at the Children's Hospital say Clayton's vision has not improved. It was 20/60 in the left eye before the operation and still is.
"After a certain age (9), the sight reganied in a lazy, or crossed, eye is minimal," said Dr. Kenneth Chance, a resident of the hospital's Eye Clinci a resident of the hospital's Eye Clinic, who said Clayton's operation is not unusual. "We do probably 1,000 cases like it a year," he said.
But whether or not Clayton actually sees better, he thinks he does. And if his operation was only ordinary to the staff at Children's Hospital, it was nothing less than miraculous to the staff at Langdon.
Last week the class gave a party for Clayton on his return to school. Terrie Morgan made him a pineapple upside down cake. Colleen Morris baked some "snickerdoodle" cookies from a secret recipe. Other classmates, some of whom Clayton had fought before, cut out letters for welcome-back signs and blew up balloons.
While Clayton accepted cake and congratulations from his classmates and former teachers, his mother, Mary Davis, sat with Margaret Washington on the edge of the party.
"This is the woman who should get the credit," said Davis, squeezing the teacher's hand. "She's the one who got the whole thing going."
When Washington inherited Clayton this year, she knew he had a reputation for trouble.
"I used to hear his name on the loud-speaker all the time," said Washington, who is finishing her 25th year as a teacher, the last 11 of them at Langdon. The teacher assumed that Clayton's problems were related to his eye aberration, and though he had been through a number of previous health screenings, she refused to accept his condition as final.
"You can't teach anybody anything until you solve their problem," said Washington, so she arranged an appointment for Clayton at a District health clinic at 702 15th St. NE, where her sister, Louise Jones, is an employe. "I send all my students over there," she explained.
The ophthalmologist at the clinic, Dr. Anna Ling, knew of the cosmetic surgery available for esotropia, or inward turning eye, at Children's Hospital and made an appointment for Clayton. On Feb. 26, the two-hour operation was performed.
"I was shaking," said Clayton's mother. "When he first came to, he said, 'What happened to my eye? I can't see.' I thought, 'Oh God, have I done the right thing?'" Within a few hours she knew she had.
Last week the only evidence that Clayton's left eye was not a perfect match for his right one was a splash of redness around the pupil. Otherwise, Clayton seemed to be in fine focus, the center of some positive attention.
"We like to build our children up, make them feel wanted and secure," said Washington, watching her former bad boy playing his new role. "It's worth every minute of time it takes to solve problems."