"Everybody always sees the negative side of (Eastern)," said Teresa Floyd, an "A" student who may be Eastern's valedictorian this June. Her voice cracked with emotion, and she blinked as if about to cry.
"That's all they care about," she said. "People you meet in the streets, they say, 'You go to Eastern. Why do you want to go there? All they do is stay in the hall, get high. Eastern is a fashion show.' But they don't really know about Eastern other than what they hear somebody else say." Eastern, she insisted, "does have some good academic qualities. If you want to learn, you can get an education here."
Teresa Floyd is fighting what she sees as Eastern's image as a school for students who want to smoke and gamble in the halls or just play sports. Although she could have graduated last year as junior because she already had more than the required credits, she stayed at Eastern.
This school year she wrote an essay on solar energy that qualified her as a finalist in citywide essay contest on the 21st Century. In the summer before her senior year, she worked at the Veteran Administration Hospital in a fellowship program sponsored by the American Heart Association.
In addition to such academic sucess stories at Eastern, several athletes have used their playing ability to keep out of the halls and get into college. The four Chesley brothers, who began attending Eastern in 1969, have gone to college with athletic scholarships. One of them was a nominee for a Rhodes Scholarship at Boston University.
Despite these academic and athletic successes, several eastern graduates who were hard-working, attentive students in their classes say they have found their high school education inadequate.
". . . I thought I was good when I was at Eastern," said Beverly Galloway, Eastern's 1977 Valedictorian and now a freshman at Ohion Wesleyan. "I thought Eastern was good if you went there to learn. But after I was at college for a while I realized I didn't know what other poeple in my classes had already learned. I had to learn study skills. I didn't know how to do a lab write-up. I don't know why they didn't teach me that. I know they must have known that, because the teachers went through labs and write-ups when they were in college."
Galloway, who graduated from Eastern with a perfect 4.0 average and now is a C plus student in college, later said: "I've discussed this with my chemistry teacher because she said I needed to tell somebody because it's not good going to school and thinking you know a little bit, and you get disappointed and go through all kinds of emotional problems. I don't know what's wrong."
Gary Blake, Eastern class of '76, said he was sure he had the background to be a freshman student at Catholic University after graduating from Eastern.
"I made the honor roll 6 out of the 12 semesters I was there," he said. "I always did exceptionally well, or so I thought.But, when I took English 101 at Catholic, I was told I was almost functionally illiterate. I couldn't even write a simple composition without grammatical mistakes. And in my 12th grade year I got, I think, a B and three A's. This was in literature."
Blake still is angry.
". . . I think if the people down at the Board of Education open their eyes up and realize what they're doing to the students in D.C., the kids in D.C., they'll change the entire school system completely," he said. "It needs to be changed over-all. I've talked to people from (other states), and they're son much advanced over the students in D.C. it's a shame. And there's no reason for it.
"The parents in D.C. also pay taxes for students to get the best education, which they're not getting. If anybody on the school board has kids, I doubt if they go to D.C. public schools," he said.
All 4 of the 11 school board members with school-age children send them to city public schools, a board official said.
In the 1976-1977 academic year, 106 Eastern students had only A's and B's on their report cards despite distractions caused by students who smoke marijuana and gamble in the halls.
All of Eastern's elite - the hard-working students who ignore disturbance outside the classroom door - appear to have several characteristics in common: strong motivation from someone in their family, career goals they already have set for themselves and an awareness of the world beyond Eastern and beyond northeast and southeast Washington.
"My sister really pushed me to do my best," Teresa Floyd said. "She told me, 'What it takes to survive is a good education so you don't have to wait for people to do things for you or ask anyone favors."
As the bell rings to start her Spanish class, Floyd can be found sitting in the front of the room near the blackboard. Most of the students are not in the room yet and the teacher is standing by the door urging students in the halls to go to their classes. The class will not begin for several minutes, so Floyd is reviewing exercises in her Spanish book. Never Cuts Classes
Floyd said she rarely is absent from school and never cuts classes. In some of her classes, she said, teachers will give her special, more challenging, assignments than those being assigned to most of the class. The teachers give her the assignment to prevent her from becoming bored in classes slowed by poor readers or discipline problems, she said.
Giving motivated students special assignments to match their drive and abilities occasionally is done with good students at Eastern. Students with poor reading abilities also are given special assignments catering to their needs. Teachers said separating of students resembles "tracking," a system in Washington schools under which students were given work according to their scores on standardized tests.
Tracking was discarded in the city school system after a suit, filed by the late Julius Hobson Sr., argued that it was an arbitrary system and made children who were not in the best classes feel they were not intelligent.
"That's not tracking," school Superintendent Vincent Reed said when asked about the practice of giving students work, the difficulty of which is based on what they can do. "It's bringing youngsters along at their own level. Everyone is being challenged because I'm sure other youngsters are moving at their level. Thats ability grouping. I'm in favor of that, and I'm glad to see teachers are doing that on their own . . . Ability grouping is based on classroom performance and has nothing to do with test scores."
"I take into consideration that everybody works on their own level and at their own pace," Teresa Floyd said. "And if somebody is slower than I am then I can't blame that person . . . I notice some people are slow in reading in my class, but no one yells at them, nobody screams."
Class clowns and incessant talking by students who do not appear interested in what the teacher is doing do not bother her, she said.
"If I'm concentrating on something, then I don't hear anything that's going on around me. Because when I put my mind on something - you know - that's all I have on my mind. I block out everything else," she said.
She does not skip school on Mondays and Fridays, as do many Eastern students who consider those days part of the weekend. And in classes, she said, she constantly makes herself work, by doing extra reading, trying to know the answer to every question and checking on the teacher's work.
"Sometimes I correct the teacher's answer, you know," she said. "I do it at my desk.Just careless errors that the teacher makes all the time. A lot of people aske me why I don't go ahead and teach the class. But it's just like I be making sure he doesn't steer us in the wrong direction.
Despite the distractions, Floyd is not alone in working hard to be a good student at Eastern.
Thomasine McFaddin, one of the Eastern students who had only A's and B's on her report card last year, said that her parents "can't make me go to school, but they tell me everyday how important it is. You know, it's sort of like a drilling. They tell me everyday, really how important it is, how hard life is. It really makes you think . . . where you would be without an education.
"See, like me for instance. What really motivates me to go to school is I have had a lot of jobs. Right now I work at MacDonald's for the rest of my life. In fact, I don't intend to work there much longer," she said.
McFaddin wants to become a child psychologist. But most of her friends at Eastern already have told her, she said, that she will not achieve that goal. McFaddin said her friends think she should stay at MacDonald's or at best become a nurse.
Wanda Phipps, another Eastern senior who has mostly A's on her school records, is applying to Harvard University this year. Aims to Be Novelist
"I think we're individuals, and I do what I want and I know what's right for me," Phipps said. "I'm going to try to stay in class and try to do my best and graduate and go to college and be one of the best contemporary novelists."
Phipps regularly submits her poetry to magazines but has not yet been published.
Eastern students who stay in class and work hard generally feel that their individualism has kept them from buckling to peer pressure and ending up in the hallways.
"I call them (the persons in the hall) 'coolies,'" said Charles Wright, an Eastern junior with a record of good grades. ". . . I was interested in being one of the boys at one time. But I realized it wasn't going to get me anywhere, and I want to achieve things. I care. Even if no one else around me cares. I've got my goals. I'm going to be double major in political science and journalism . . ."
Wright said other Eastern students, such as the persons he calls "coolies," call him a "punk," "walking dictionary" and ask him if he is a "fag."
Ray Hammond, an assistant principal who has noticed changes in Eastern students since he came to the school in 1960, said today's good student are motivated to do well in school through their interest in jobs that pay well and will free them from financial worries, giving them a place in the world that will offer them the security they seek.
He said students of the early 1970s had no motivation to earn good grades because the social turmoil of the late 1960s made them anti-establishment and anti-school while they were in elementary school and junior high. By the time they reached high school, he said, they were not interested in good grades because they did not want to admit that, although socially aware, they had not learned the basics they should have known before high school.
The students of the early 1970s were defiant and not well-educated, Hammond said. As a result, they felt that "the world owes us" when it came to graduating, gaining admission to a good college and landing a high-paying job.
". . . The student now has finally come to realize that the job market is competitive so much so that now they feel that they'd better get in and learn as much as they can while they can," he said. "However, I feel the number is still too small because, unfortunately we have another level of students who . . . don't know exactly what they want to do. So they're not trying to advance intellectually, they're not trying to advance economically - they just don't know what's going on."
While career goals cr inspire some Eastern students to earn good grades, other students are motivated enough by teen-age dreams of playing college sports to keep their grades high enough to gain admission to college.
Francis Chesley, a 1973 Eastern graduate, had grades high enough to qualify for the University of Wyoming where he plays football. He is one of four brothers who won athletic scholarships after attending Eastern. Parents Expected Best
". . . If you're playing ball, you had to keep up good grades," he said, sitting in his parents' living room wearing a Wyoming football practice jersey. "You sort of see in the future yourself going to college or attaining a scholarship. So I had goals, plus my parents always expected us to do our best."
His father agrees.
". . . They (his sons) all had a goal - to make something of themselves," Walter Chesley said.
Francis Chesley said that while he was at Eastern from 1970 to 1973, athletes were given special treatment by other students and by teachers.
"If you were a good ballplayer," he said, "you had a lot of respect, you had a lot of people coming to see you and liking you and speaking to you in the halls or whatever. Maybe some of the emphasis put on sports was just a thing of being cool."
In addition to sports, Chesley said his parents motivated him to do well in school, just as several of Eastern's top academic students said their parents were behind them, urging them to succeed.
"I'd say that, in most cases, if you find a family with a very strong and together home life," Francis Chesley said, "then what they do in school or at the job or wherever might be a parallel to what they do at home. You know, it's not say that this is a perfect household or nothing like that, but it is a house and it is a home, there's no question. What you do here . . . what you are taught here, you mannerisms and what you think about yourself. . . (these things) are displayed at school and any other place you are."
IN the Chesley home, all the boys had to be in bed by 10 p.m. unless there was a game. At all times, until children had to let their parents know where they were.
"I can remember when we had to be in at 9 o'clock," said Francis Chesley, "and we were in bed at 10 o'clock. I used to play with out there, still hollering and whooping, and naturally you wonder what they're doing and you want to be out there, too. You don't realize your parents are acting in your best interest. You are thinking. 'What do I have to do this?"
"You realize after you are older and become more mature that they were acting in your best interests. There's really nothing out there, 10 or 11 o'clock at night, in the dark, for a little kid. Nothing I can think of . . . That creates crime when you're out there with nothing to do and you're going to find something to do."
Chesley said that his family ate together every night and that his parents let him and his brother know that they had high expectations of them.
"(Teachers) are going to expect a little more out of some students," he said. "I happened to be a Chesley, and was up to us to sort of live up to those expectation we had for ourselves and our dad had for us, too."
After leaving Eastern, Chesley said, he was not accepted at one college because of low college board test scores. He said he did not feel that Eastern had prepared him to handle the mathematics and science courses he faced in college nor had it raised his reading and comprehension abilities to a college level. Barely Able
An Eastern graduate going to college would "barely be able to compete," he said.
"(Some) courses (at college) are used to find out just where you came from and what you are interested in" to weed-out those not capable of handling college-level work, he said. "You really have to apply yourself. You really have to have some science background and some mathematical skills and, when I came out (of Eastern), I didn't have these types of skills. I wasn't prepared in that sense to go to college and be on my own. . . ."
Chesley is not the only Eastern alumnus to report that Eastern did not prepare him fully handle freshman courses in college.
Other alumni who reported problems because of an inadequate high school education, did not want to criticize Eastern. Often they blamed themselves for not working harder, excusing what others saw as the failings of any public school in a large city. They explained that Eastern is forced to deal with students who do not want an education, students out in the halls and students who have family problems that the school must tackle before it can try teaching them anything.
George Neale, now a senior at Duke University, was second in his class at Eastern, active in student affairs and the son of the president of Eastern' parent-teacher association. He is protective of the white and blue colors of Eastern. 'If You Want to . . .'
Neale defended Eastern as a school where "you can learn . . . if you want to." He said that he has done well at Duke and that his problems there are similar to those experienced by students from private schools and public high schools in other cities. He explained that students were in the halls at Eastern because ". . . the library is only so big over at Eastern." He said other students in the halls may have half-day schedules or may be waiting through a canceled class period for their next class.
"I just hate to see people getting down on public schools." he said.
Neale said he had to work very hard at Duke in some areas to catch up with students from other high school systems in the nation.
"I don't really think I really got much out of math at Eastern," he said, "but I had really good physics teacher . . .(I) wasn't accustomed to, you know, working four or five hours a night or something like that. (When you graduate from Eastern) you're probably not used to writing . . . I got to college, I'd never written a term paper or research paper. And that's ridiculous. So consequently I waited until my junior year (to take those courses). But they finally caught up with me. I couldn't avoid them any more." He worked hard and earned good grades despite his education's shortcoming.
Gary Blake, the 1976 Eastern graduate now attending catholic University, said many of the top students in his class at Eastern went to college but returned home "disappointed" after a year.
"Even some of the smarter ones found out that it was much harder than they had anticipated," he said. "For the simple reason they did so well at Eastern they went to college with the notion that they had the ability to just breeze through."
Blake said part of the problem involves the minimal graduation requirements at Eastern and all other public high schools here. Not What You Though
"Anytime you get out of school with just applied math, one year of biology, you've got the four years of English, no physics, no chemistry, . . . it affects you in more ways than one because you don't have the education you thought you had," he said.
"And in everyday life, it cripples you for the simple reason that a lot of things in life extend from education. If you don't have a good education, you become depressed when people look at you and you can't perform well. You become unemployed . . . I think its just the entire D.C. school system. It should tighten up, force people to take algebra, some chemistry, physics, classes that necessary in today's world," he said.
Blake, who is derisively called "college boy" by other young men in his northeast Washington neighborhood, said the low standards for public high school students here create boredom in schools. That leads students out of the classroom and into the halls, he said.
". . . There's nothing there to keep (students) in class," he said.
"I mean, the school is not a challenge, so you go outside the class to find your challenges. And while I was there you could find a number of students in the halls, not even in class . . . I went to algebra II and did very well. But that's when it stopped (at Eastern). No trigonometry was taught, and no chemistry was taught . . . I couldn't go higher, even to give me a challenge, to make me work. So then I became bored . . ." he said.
Most of the half-dozen "A" students at Eastern who were interviewed for this article said they think they will do well with the preparation Eastern has given them. But all said they were uncertain about the quality of such an education because they have heard that high schools elsewhere are thought to be better.
"Fromwaht I've heard, the education at Wilson (a public high school in northwest Washington said to be the city's best) is better," junior Charles Wright said. "At Eastern I'm smart but, with kids over there (at Wilson), I'd like to see where I stand academically. I'd like to see what I could so over there."
Next: Teachers at Eastern