When the hostages were taken more than a year ago, Reginald Moss worried like most other Americans -- but one of his concerns was unique. As principal of Alice Deal Junior High School, Moss had to oversee an assembly program in which foreign students were to describe winter clebrations in their native countries. One of the participants was Iranian.
"Remember this was at a time when students were being attacked; tempers were high," Moss said. "I couldn't sleep, I thought, 'Oh God, what are they going to do to this kid.'
"But in the true Deal spirit, he got up, 'he gave his presentation, and got just as much applause and appreciation as the other students. It was the true Deal spirit," Moss recalled, tacking on one of his favorite expressions: "We don't teach love here, but we demand that each student respect each other."
Alice Deal Junior High School, tucked onto a sloping hill joining Fort Drive and Nebraska Avenue NW, seems, after some rocky years, to have hit a harmonious blend of race, class and achievement.
Known as a white enclave at the end of the '60s, Deal's integration in the early '70s led to a period of rough administrative transitions, low teacher morale, discipline problems and middle-class exodus -- in short, the struggles of other public schools, but complicated by the extraordinary racial, social and economic mix.
And though white enrollment has dwindled since, now hovering around 35 percent, the school's population represents the city's heaviest mixture of whites and nonblacks in a junior high school, and includes the highest concentration of foreign-born students in the District.
More importantly, the school seems to have reversed a trouble-ridden image of six years ago, when vandalism and hallway scuffles were common occurrences. Under the guidance of principal Moss and an active parent's association, the school is slowly learning to take the best educational advantage of its social mixture, with results acclaimed by students and parents.
"The school has undergone a gradual improvement over the years, beginning with Tony Minus (principal from 1974 to 1977)," said Arnold Mays, president of Deal's Home and School Association. "He was a strict disciplinarian . . . and in the past several years, morale has been improving considerably. I'm aware of all the bad press, but in the D.C. schools, things can change rapidly, and (the unpleasantness) is all in the past."
"I heard that it was a big school and lots of things happen there," added Mays' daughter Rachel, a ninth grader at Deal, "but people just have the wrong idea . . . I'm learning a lot; I'm glad I went there."
Deal's 1,000 students from an estimated 47 countries and from all over the District attend school under the tree-lined hills of Tenleytown. They speak 17 languages and dialects, and are the daughters and sons of ambassadors, maids, lawyers and welfare recipients.
Despite the diversity -- some parents say because of it -- Deal students scored higher than any other junior high students in the city in standardized achievement tests last spring. As a result say officials, the school year began with a waiting list of about 100 students, vying for a vacancy in the approximately 300 spaces for children who live beyond "feeder" school boundaries.
Behind the statistics, however, are the diverse needs of a population that includes recent Cambodian arrivals and Gold Coast professionals. Managing those needs is considered a Deal school specialty.
Thomas Bauder, who teaches English as a second language to three levels of speakers, believes he has the answer. "I think this is an excellent school because of the administration, which keeps control of the school," he said, "and the teachers are treated like professionals."
One row of Bauder's Tuesday first period class included students from Nicaragua, Italy, Peru, Vietnam and Zambia. Classes are available in all levels of linguistic ability, as well as a bilingual social studies class for Spanish speakers. Transitional classes, limited to 15, are held for all students expected to have trouble adjusting to the rigors of junior high school work. Bauder thinks the combination makes for good education.
"There's a good mix," he said. "I see the kids talking together in the halls and it seems that some positive intergroup relations are going on here. It's interesting to see the kids come back, like from Wilson. They say, 'Boy, I really miss it here.' I think things are so natural they don't realize things aren't this way in the rest of the world."
Not surprisingly, students say cliques develop along linguistic and class lines, particularly in the cafeteria, where such divisions usually appear. But much of the credit for keeping lines of communication open, and for making social groupings constructive, seems to go to Moss. The 37-year-old principal is considered as strict as his predecessor, and he tempers his policies with a healthy dose of respect for students.
"My policies are simple -- which I all owe to Dr. Minus," Moss said, speaking in the didactic style he seems to favor. "Although he never categorized it, I call it POCE -- Policy, Order, Consistency, Expectancy. If you have policies which are made with input from everybody, and if you have order, and everybody knows what they're here for, and if you have consistency and you stay at it, you have a situation like we have here. Very comfortable."
Moss is also an enthusiastic supporter of extracurricular activities, which he believes help unite the students. In addition, to interscholastic athletic teams, there are myriad clubs, intramurals, and choral groups. Whenever possible, activities are related to the international flavor of the school.
"There are no secrets here," insists Moss, a native of Charlottesville, Va., and the product of a segregated school system. "It's just being consistent and being fair. And it's not a melting pot. It's a tapestry, with all the kids being the threads."