At a recent D.C. public schools awards ceremony, Anne Jackson was praised as one of those rare teachers who has somehow been inspired rather than demoralized by the District's continuing crisis in education.
"She possesses a uniqueness that is difficult to find," said Doris Johnson, a career development instructor for the city's schools. "She is constantly dragging and pulling kids to libraries and on field trips and staying in touch with their parents."
Jackson is a sixth-grade teacher at the Anne Beers Elementary School in Southeast Washington. But it's not just her work on weekdays that earned her the Ward 7 Teacher of the Year Award. Every Saturday, during the school year and throughout the summer, Jackson volunteers as a tutor for all who show up in the basement of East Washington Heights Baptist Church, a few blocks from the school.
Most of the children are from Jackson's 1989 sixth-grade class, which she has vowed to tutor for the next five years until they graduate from high school. The remainder are students who have heard about the tutoring program and want to be as smart as their friends.
Six of the 35 students tutored by Jackson applied for the enhanced science and math program to begin at Jefferson Junior High this fall. There were 500 applicants for the program citywide. Only 140 were selected -- including Jackson's six.
"I love children and I know that all children can learn," said Jackson, who has been a teacher in the D.C. public schools for 21 years. "It's a matter of commitment and making students believe in themselves."
Jackson said she began her tutoring program after becoming fed up with the District's high dropout rate, which claims nearly half of the city's public school students -- many of them before they finish junior high school.
"It is extremely important to have someone help them through the transition period from elementary to junior high, to help them begin thinking about career goals and what it will take to reach them," Jackson said.
To make her program stronger, Jackson has invited all interested persons with careers to stop by and talk to the students about the world of work.
"By the time they graduate from high school, it's often too late to begin thinking about career choices," Jackson said. "I've found that the earlier a student begins thinking about jobs, the better prepared they are when the time comes to perform."
Jackson also taught at Brightwood Elementary in Northwest Washington for 15 years. There, she worked with the motivated children of middle-class parents, whose involvement with the students made for outstanding achievement.
The level of parental involvement and, consequently, student performance, was not as high when she arrived at Anne Beers. But Jackson did not hold that against the students.
She soon began meeting with her sixth-graders for an hour each morning before regular classes to discuss test-taking techniques. On Saturdays, the students meet from 9 a.m. until noon.
"One of the primary goals is to build self-esteem," Jackson said. "When students believe they can achieve, they will achieve."
Jackson says her most successful technique in building self-esteem is calling students to the blackboard to solve problems.
"They may have difficulty and it may take a while, but by the time they sit down they will have accomplished something, and that makes all the difference in the world," she said.
At a time when the D.C. public schools appear to be crumbling under the weight of an ineffective and bloated bureaucracy, it is the unsung teachers like Jackson who are shielding District youths from total disaster.
While standardized test scores for most students are declining, Jackson can boast that her tutoring has paid off handsomely. On the most recent Comprehensive Tests of Basic Skills, her students proved to be among the best in the city. Her class scored an average of 10.7 out of a possible 10.9 on math computation and scored a perfect 10.9 on language skills.
"One of the things we do a lot of is sit and talk about what we can do to improve ourselves," Jackson said. "Some may need help in math, others may have a behavior problem or may be experiencing difficulties at home. Whatever the child needs, that's what I focus on."
The District's extraordinary educational crisis requires the dedication of extraordinary people. Anne Jackson is one who is meeting the challenge.