There is only one white child in Kendell Kelly's first-grade classroom, fewer than a dozen in her elementary school, and the black 6-year-old could become a teen-ager without seeing more than a handful of white classmates.
Kendell's school cannot be desegregated because of its distance from white neighborhoods, say Prince George's County officials. In compensation, they have showered extra teachers, fancy computers and new textbooks on this and nine other predominantly black elementary schools.
Most parents with children at Kendell's school say they are thrilled with the special resources, which have led to higher test scores and a new, positive atmosphere.
For the moment, the improvements satisfy Kendell's father, Kenneth Kelly. But at the same time, he said, "There is this nagging feeling that it would probably be best if my daughter was raised in an integrated school system."
The novel experiment in Prince George's, implemented as part of a far-reaching desegregation program, has left black parents in a quandary, trying to balance the moral goal of integration against the practical goal of quality education in their neighborhood schools.
Introduced last fall after a dozen years of court-ordered busing failed to improve racial balance in the county's 175 schools, the "compensatory" schools program has prompted a delicate question: Desegregation at what cost? With recent proposals to expand the number of compensatory schools, charges of "resegregation" are competing with cries of gratitude for the new attention being paid to these predominantly black schools.
On the one hand, many parents, resigned to the impossibility of desegregating the entire school system, say they are more concerned over the quality of education than whether desks are occupied according to a racial formula.
But on the other hand, there are black leaders who say it is dangerous to sanction all-black schools and that such a policy is a frightening step backwards after 30 years of progress toward integration. In a county where 40 percent of the students are white, pupils such as Kendell Kelly will see no evidence of integration at school.
"The bottom line is that if there are no white kids in the building, you're not going to have schools that are equal," said Sarah Johnson, one of two black members on the county Board of Education. "That's unfortunate, but it's true . . . . I'm a firm believer there is no such thing as separate but equal. I grew up at a time when everything was segregated. Now I look at us reverting to that system in education."
For Kenneth Kelly, who falls between the two camps, the rewards of sending his daughter to an integrated school do not, for the moment, outweigh the costs.
"Given the trade-offs that would be necessary . . . being on a bus for an hour and a half each way to a school who knows where, I'm willing to at least see if she's able to progress academically" in her present school, he said.
Kendell Kelly attends Barnaby Manor Elementary, where test scores have been among the lowest in the county, pupils have come largely from low-income families and the virtually all-black enrollment has violated court-established guidelines for racial balance.
But this year, in the county's effort to resolve its 13-year-old desegregation lawsuit, officials went to work to turn the "problem" school into a "super" school. Class size was reduced by a third, new teachers were hired, a supply of textbooks and materials was purchased, a lab was equipped with 60 computers, and a noted Yale University psychiatrist was hired to share his successful model for teaching inner-city students.
Barnaby Manor parents say teachers are more enthusiastic and more involved. A recent "learning fair" brought out 35 parents, a showing unheard of in the past, and those without cars were driven to and from the school by teachers.
"I think the school is doing just great," said James McBride, whose son is in fourth grade. "You can tell by the kids feeling a lot of love there, it's just really good."
James Garrett, who organized the Coalition of Blacks Against Unnecessary Busing, states it bluntly: "You don't have to integrate schools to have quality education."
Divisions in the black community over how and whether to desegregate are not new.
"Don't think it's ever been a monolithic view in the black schools," said Alvin Thornton, a member of a citizens advisory committee appointed to monitor the desegregation plan.
As blacks grapple with the issue, the success of the compensatory schools has generated another side effect: For the first time, white parents are jealous of the quality education that they believe is being handed to black children. The sentiment extends to black parents whose children do not attend these schools or other schools with special programs.
The centerpiece of the desegregation program implemented by Superintendent John A. Murphy is a system of a dozen magnet schools, which offer day care before and after school and programs for talented pupils as incentives to white parents to send their children to predominantly black schools.
The 10 "compensatory education" schools, including Barnaby Manor, make up the second piece of the program.
Murphy acknowledges the importance of integration. But he believes that, instead of busing elementary schoolchildren for long distances, the county should build "a solid foundation" of academic skills and then, if necessary, bus children long distances when they are older.
"I just am concerned about the damage that could be done in the extensive busing during those early years," he said.
But Richard (Steve) Brown, executive director of the county NAACP, said he questions whether school officials have made a "good faith" effort to integrate the compensatory education schools. At the same time, he said he recognizes that the program has softened longstanding resentment among many black parents who believed that their schools were overlooked.
Of $9 million set aside for the magnet program this year, nearly $2 million was spent for resources and programs at these predominantly black schools.
Pupils are now spending part of each week in a computer lab and borrowing portable computers to take home. Class size is closer to 25 pupils and next year will be reduced to 20, compared with the county average of 30. All-day kindergarten is to be added next year.
For third grader Keith Hassell, a pupil at Bradbury Heights Elementary, another compensatory education school, the smaller classes have made a difference. Helen Hassell said her son "went through an attitudinal change this year" and now looks forward to going to school. He has improved his grades, which were average last year, and is now on the honor roll. "I can see the progress my son is making," she said.
The concept of compensatory education schools is based on a Supreme Court case, Milliken v. Bradley, which allowed school districts to maintain all-minority schools that have been proven impossible to desegregate if additional resources were expended on those students.
The strategy is becoming more common in school districts across the country, including Los Angeles, St. Louis and Chicago, where inner-city areas have become increasingly black.
In Prince George's, a court- appointed expert panel reported last year that all public schools could be brought within racial guidelines by using extensive and long-distance busing. But when the panel recommendations caused widespread protest by parents, black and white, Murphy proposed the magnet plan.
As black enrollment in the county has increased from 20 percent to 60 percent since 1970 and many neighborhoods have remained racially homogeneous, more school officials and parents have accepted what they see as the inevitability of some all-black schools and, consequently, the pragmatism of the new program.
"This is really about the most practical thing I can think of," said Ronald F. Hillard, the Bradbury Heights principal.
"When I think of the long bus rides, this option is far superior," said Sharon Diehl, principal at Barnaby Manor. "It's far more than money, it's staff, commitment . . . working with the total child instead of just academics."
Focusing on the total child is one element of the model used in these schools, which was introduced by Dr. James P. Comer, a Yale psychiatrist who has raised test scores among inner-city black children.
His method is designed to attack the particular problems of low-income children, encouraging teachers to raise their expectations, increasing parent involvement, establishing a "mental health" team to deal with discipline problems and teaching children the social skills that their middle-class counterparts are likely to learn at home.
In Sandra Collins' first grade class at Barnaby Manor, for example, a few of the children had never been taken to a zoo and most did not know the difference between a lion and a tiger. So before they began to read, Collins taught them to recognize zoo animals.
Collins and other staff members also teach children about brushing their teeth, table manners and washing before they go to school.
"You give children a lot of skills and a lot of self-esteem to think they can, and then they believe it and they can go out and conquer the world," said Kaye Francis, a teacher at Barnaby Manor.
"What we're going to see coming from the compensatory education schools is . . . the fact that all children can learn . . . . We still can achieve a good education without busing miles and miles and miles."