When Jim Taylor moved from Okinawa to Fairfax County five years ago he immediately sensed things would be different in his new school.
"I would get straight A's and the (Fairfax) teachers couldn't believe a black could do that," Taylor recalls with a wry smile. "They would even say that to me," said Taylor, who lived in Okinawa while his father was stationed there in the military.
Taylor is the only member of the Fairfax County school system with the unique perspective of a student and a school official. He is a 17-year-old senior at Thomas Jefferson High School, a National Merit semifinalist and the student representative to the county school board.
In his role as a non-voting board representative, Taylor acts as an intermediary between students and the board, interjecting what he thinks is on the minds of county students.
When asked to identify the biggest problem confronting black students in Fairfax, Taylor replies without hesitation -- "isolation."
In a county where only 5 students out of every 100 are black, Taylor has has some first-hand experience wih isolaion.
"To be honest I did really feel alone until this summer when I went to Boys' State," Taylor says. "There I met whites and blacks, all kinds of people, and everybody there was smart. Everybody there could give you a run for your money.
"Since that time I've made friends with the Boys' State representative from Prince George's County -- he's black, too -- and I feel a lot better about things."
Taylor says that while he is finally used to being the only black in many of his classes, it is not as easy for students who are not as gifted. to work out the problems which face blacks in the predominately white Fairfax County schools, Taylor says it is important for black students to gather occasionally, just to talk.
"We just formed a black history club at Jefferson," Taylor says enthusiastically. "At the first meeting we asked the other kids to identify blacks off a list of names. This is hard to believe, but almost no one knew that Jesse Jackson or Edward Brooke was black," Taylor says shaking his head in disblief.
"We need to do something about role models, especially in the elementary schools. They all learn about Martin Luther King, but they need to know about living people, the blacks that are doing something now."
Taylor might be surprised to learn he has become a role model for some Fairfax County black students.
In his role as student leader, Taylor often attends school activities around the county. After a recent visit to Fort Hunt High School, several black students told Cassandra King, who works with the school's Student Community Resource Aide Program, that they were stunned to find Taylor was a student and not a young administrator.
"He was so well-spoken and intelligent," King said. "The kids were amazed to find he was a student, too."
When it comes to education, Taylor is every bit as serious as a school administrator. The educational treadmill which many black students find themselves on is of great concern to Taylor. He speculates that the home environment, along with other causes, may be a contributing factor.
"Black parents often don't have the time to get involved in the schools or to motivate their kids," he said. "They also don't feel comfortable going into the white schools for anything.
"The one thing I think the Fairfax Schools should be doing is finding a way to involve black parents in the schools. I go to a lot of school functions and I don't see that many minority parents."
With college less than a year away, Taylor has pinned his hopes on MIT or Princeton, even though he says he did consider going to a predominately black university.
"But one good thing about being a minority is that you're not such a stranger when you come into a new place -- all the other minority members seek you out and make you part of a group," he says with satisfaction.