When Chris Rivers (not his real name) walks the long, rutted driveway to the school bus stop in the morning, it is in sight of Sugarloaf Mountain four miles away. Here, in the hills of Montgomery County's westernmost reaches, the forests are full of deer and, in the summer, the gardens are rich with sweet melons.
Neighbors are few for Chris, a 13-year-old at Baker Junior High school 15 miles away. He keeps company with his four brothers, his mother, his ailing father, a few chickens, one duck and a dog named Prince (not his real name): Just "passin' the time of day."
Chris proudly shows visitors his report card with its many Bs. But those grades are from a remedial class and do not compare with those of most seventh-graders. Chris' work is below grade level. He is one of Baker's seventh-graders who failed the Maryland State Functional Reading Test last fall. He scored 60 percent.
Since he started kindergarten at Gaithersburg Elementary, Chris has had a short attention span and shown difficulties in visual perception and auditory comprehesion. In the first grade, he scored in the 23rd percentile nationally in reading comprehension. When the family moved north of Clarksburg -- "Living in an apartment was like being in prison," his mother says -- he was immediately put into a remedial reading program. For 45 minutes a day, for 120 days, he worked with a diagnostic/prescriptive teacher to overcome visual and motor difficulties.
Chris' family, glad to be surrounded by nature, lives in a 19th century, tar-papered farmhouse. His father, who did not finish elementary school, is bedridden with emphysema and an enlarged heart and has not worked for 11 years. His mother, who dropped out of Gaithersburg High in the ninth grade to marry, does not work: "Six teen-agers is enough." The family survives on Supplemental Security Income payments and whatever the garden yields.
"If it weren't for the stuff I can and the stuff I put back," says his mother, "we'd just barely get along."
Nevertheless, unlike some students from similar backgrounds, Chris has a good record of attendance in school and, aside from his love of talking, has never been a discipline problem.
Throughout elementary school he performed well, but always below grade level. He has continuously been in remedial classes and has a file folder thicker than most in his permanent record.
At Baker, Chris spends four out of seven class periods in a "resource" room with approximately 14 other students in remedial classes to learn math, English, science and georgraphy. He is receiving extra training as well to help him pass the functional reading test.
"I think a lot of youngsters would be more turned off to school and more of a discipline problem than he is," said Chris' counsellor, Jeanette Hallquist. "Even though his scores are low, he has a good attitude. He might be a good candidate for a vocational program. We seriously need a vocational program at Baker."