She wasn’t daydreaming in class today. They were reading. She was learning to be a good reader, but she really had to think hard. Miss Teak wasn’t asking her to just read the words any more, now she had to show she understood what she read.
She liked it when she wasn’t bored.
Someday, she told herself, she would be the best reader in class.
Maybe next year.
The class was reading a chapter book. It was about a girl who lived with her grandma and five pets: a cat, a dog, a squirrel, a deer and a monkey. All the pets had to learn to get along. Neva read first. She almost always read first or read when there were really long words. Jenna was excited enough by the story. Any tale with a pet monkey was exciting to her. Something else gave her shivers in the spine. Why, she wondered, was the girl living with her grandmother and not her mom and dad?
Jenna finally got her chance to read too.
Usually kids only read one paragraph. Jenna read more than one. She had to read lots of short paragraphs because people in the story were talking.
In a book everybody gets their own paragraph when they talk, Jenna remembered.
She made sure she was loud enough for everybody in the room to hear:
“Grandma,” said the little girl. “I know my daddy drove off one day and never came back, but what about my mama?”
“Nell,” said Grandma. “Your mother had a problem.”
“I don’t remember my mom,” said Nell. “What was her problem?”
Grandma looked like she wanted to cry and said, “I don’t know if I should tell you this.”
“Tell me, Grandma!”
“Your mother drank, Nell. When she drank, she couldn’t stop.”
Jenna stopped reading. She didn’t know why, but she felt a little dizzy. She started to read some more, but Colton interrupted her, “Some people have a lot of trouble with drinking, Miss Teak. I know!”
“Colton,” ordered Miss Teak. “Watch what you say. Don’t mention any people you know.”
Colton stared at Miss Teak. For a moment Jenna wondered if he would kick his chair, but he hadn’t done that in a while. He said, “Some people drink… Some people do drugs.”
Everyone stared at Colton. He added, “I know a grown up who used a drug called crystal meth!”
Kids looked around at each other, looking confused.
A couple of students stared down at the ground like they were miserable.
Even Miss Teak didn’t seem to know what to say.
“Crystal meth makes you wired,” said Colton.
“What does wired mean?” asked Jenna in a timid voice.
Colton’s eyes blazed, and his hands started moving around while he spoke, “It means really hyper. You move a lot, talk a lot and laugh at stupid things. You stay up all night!”
Jenna’s hand shot up, and before the teacher called on her she blurted out, “When people have been taking this drug, do they fall asleep for a long time after it wears off?”
The teacher froze for a moment before she said, “Yes Jenna, that happens. They have been awake for so long that their bodies can’t take it anymore, so they sleep a long, long time.”
Jenna thought something was crawling down her skin. A teardrop had inched down her nose and plopped down on her desk. She raked the back of her hand across her face, wiping away the tears. This time she didn’t care if Colton saw and started yelling about it, but nobody noticed.
“Can I get some water?” Jenna asked.
“Yes Jenna,” said Miss Teak.
Jenna practically jumped up and hurried toward the door. She rammed into it and slowed down when she was in the hallway. She wasn’t crying anymore, but she was glad to be out of the room.
She drank water for a long time and splashed her face, wiping it on her shirt. She took a deep breath and tried to “pretend smile” so nobody would know she was sad. She trudged back to class.
Things were different. The desks were in different rows. The posters on the wall had changed. She looked around and saw a different teacher, Mr. Anozi, staring down his nose at her. She gasped. She was in the wrong room. She turned around and slammed the door, rushing to her own class.
She opened the door, and her eyes grew wide. Things were different here too. Yes, she was in her own room. Miss Teak was there too, but students were in groups. They had moved their desks so they could be in clusters of four.
“Group work,” said Miss Teak in what was almost a singing voice.
The class knew what to say, “Group work. Group work. Listen up. Get along!” That was the signal to get quiet and listen.
Jenna sat down with her group. She wished she could be in charge today. Instead, a bossy girl named Mon-Unique was the leader.
“Today we are talking about the scientific method,” said Miss Teak. “Tell each other the steps of the scientific method.”
The kids started sharing ideas. Things got loud quickly. “It has to be science talk,” said Miss Teak above the racket.
“The scientific method has five steps,” said Mon-Unique. Her head bobbed side to side as she talked. “Question. Research. Hypo…”
Hypothesis,” interrupted Jenna.
“I bet that’s wrong.” Mon-Unique gave her a dirty look but went on, “Experiment. Conclusion.” Mon-Unique made her doubt herself. Maybe it wasn’t hypothesis! Now she was confused.
Miss Teak held up the quiet sign, two fingers like a peace sign. After a moment the kids held up the quiet sign and stopped talking.
“Now for the hard part,” said Miss Teak. “What do these steps mean?”
Nobody spoke for a moment. Miss Teak smiled a little. “Anybody?” The kids stayed still and said nothing until Miss Teak said, “For one million dollars! What do the steps mean?”
One million dollars,” thought Jenna. She spoke up, “Question means you have to ask something. You want to know something… if something works or doesn’t work. Research means you have to read… to read about what other people have…”
She knew what she wanted to say but not how to say it. Mon-Unique smiled a mean, wicked smile.
Miss Teak smiled and prompted her, “Do you mean reading what other people have found out about a topic?”
Jenna smiled and said, “That’s it! Hypoth… Hypothesis?”
“You said it right,” said the teacher.
Jenna peeked out of the corner of her eye at the poster. She couldn’t really see it, but she thought she knew. She said, “Guess?”
Miss Teak nodded and added, “Hypothesis means guess. Remember, it’s not a wild guess. You have to think about it first.”
“Then you experiment,” said Jenna eagerly. “You do some kind of a project and see if it works. You look at the results. Last, you make a conclusion.”
“And what does that mean?” asked Miss Teak.
“Uhhhhh,” Jenna spluttered. “I think you have to decide if the experiment worked or not.”
“Very good,” said Miss Teak.
“Do I get my one million dollars?” asked Jenna.
“Yes,” said Miss Teak. “Mon-Unique will pay you.”
Even Mon-Unique laughed. Jenna grinned. She never really thought Miss Teak would give her a million bucks.
Miss Teak passed out equipment to every group. She gave out batteries, bulbs and buzzers.
We don’t have any wires,” said Mon-Unique.
“I know,” said Miss Teak. I’m giving you several things to use. Some might work, and others might not. I will give you nails, plastic tubes, metal coils, copper rectangles, steel wool and rubber hoses. I need you to guess which ones can connect to the bulb and the battery and make it light up. Then you need to experiment and see what works.”
“Mon-Unique is bleeding again,” Colton shouted from another table. “Just like last week.”
Jenna looked over. Lots of blood was leaking out of the girl’s nose. Mon-Unique held a hand over the nose in a useless attempt to stop the bleeding.
“Bloody noses are never as bad as they seem,” said the teacher in a calm voice. “I need a volunteer.”
Every hand shot up. Jenna was disappointed when the teacher picked Neva instead of her. “Neva, walk Mon-Unique up to the nurse.”
They left the room. Miss Teak pulled some “wipies” out of a plastic can and cleaned up the blood on Mon-Unique’s desk. The wipies smell like ammonia, thought Jenna.
“Jenna,” said Miss Teak. “You can be the group leader.”
“Yes!” said Jenna. She asked her group, “Who wants to write things down?”
They experimented. Some things worked. The nail, the metal coil, the copper rectangle and even the steel wool would connect the bulb and the battery and make it glow.
“Miss Teak,” said Jenna. “Can we make a chart?”
The teacher smiled proudly and said, “Of course. Your group finished early.” She gave Jenna a warning look and said, “Pick someone else to report to the class.”
Jenna picked a boy who didn’t talk much, and he smiled. By the time everyone else was done with their experiments Jenna’s group had made a poster with two columns: WORKS GREAT and IT SUCKS. Miss Teak walked over with some yellow stickies and placed them over the IT SUCKS. Below each heading, the group had drawn pictures of the different items. Emilio, the quiet boy, explained the poster to the class.
Miss Teak started talking again. “Let me tell you a new word. Replicate. Replicate is important in science. It means other people can do the same experiment you do. Why is it so important for other people to be able to do the same experiment and get the same results.”
Mon-Unique walked back in the room. She looked fine now. She sat back down next to Jenna. She asked, “If Jenna gets this right, do I have to pay her another million dollars?” The other students laughed.
Miss Teak turned to Jenna and said, “Jenna, you seem to like science.”
A few kids said things like:
“I do too!”
“I like science!”
“I’m good at science.”
The teacher ignored them. “What do you think, Jenna?”
“Well,” Jenna started slowly. “I used to think you were doing some kind of a trick.”
Miss Teak raised her eyebrows in surprise and said, “A trick?”
“Like a magic trick,” said Jenna. “I had a hard time believing science worked every time, but then you started letting us do the same experiments, and we would get the same…”
“Results?” asked Miss Teak.
“Yes,” said Jenna. She gritted her teeth, trying to think of the right words to say. Her face was probably scrunched up, but she didn’t care. “If you do an experiment, then other people can do the same experiment and get the same results. If other people get different results, then maybe they did something different, or maybe you were lying, or maybe you did something wrong.”
Miss Teak stopped smiling and stared hard at Jenna. For a moment Jenna thought she did something wrong. Was Miss Teak going to scold her?
She didn’t scold. Instead she said, “Jenna, that was a very good insight for an eight year old.
Jenna didn’t know what an insight was, but she figured it was something positive.
“I am going to tell you a secret about life,” said Miss Teak. “If you do a really effective eight hour a day job, you might get rewarded with a ten hour a day job.”
Jenna laughed, and so did some of the other kids. Someone in the background said, “That’s not fair.”
“I don’t know about fair,” the teacher said. “Some people like an extra challenge.”
Miss Teak went to a closet in the back of the room and got out some poster board and lots of worksheets. She leafed through them for a moment and picked some out. “Jenna, I am giving you a choice of experiments. I want you to do extra homework, you need to do a science experiment at home, show the results on this poster board, bring it back to class and tell us about it.”
There was a lot of complaining. Some kids said Jenna shouldn’t have to do the extra work. Others said they wanted an extra project. Miss Teak ignored the voices and they died down.
“I get to do a science fair project!” said Jenna. “Like the sixth graders do!”
“Did you all hear Jenna?” asked Miss Teak. “She didn’t say I have to do it. She said I get to do it.”
Miss Marken opened the door. Her mouth was a grim straight line that ran along her face. Jenna looked up at her, dropping the poster board. She grabbed at it, dropping the worksheets. Her face turned red. She knew what was happening. Miss Marken was going to make her go to the office and talk to Miss Ortiz.
Instead the principal said, “Colton, please come with me.”
Colton jumped up and ran over to the principal. He almost crashed into her. She bent down and whispered a few words to him. He started jumping up and down, happy and excited.
He hurried back to his seat and scooped up his coat. Then, he ran over to Jenna and said, “I get to go back to Mom and Dad.” He stopped smiling and said, “I won’t see you again.” Next, he said something that didn’t make any sense to Jenna. He told her, “You are the best friend I ever had.”
She didn’t know what to say. She didn’t think she had been such a good friend to him.
Maybe she was the only friend he ever had.
He tried to hug her and almost fell over when he did. A couple of kids started to giggle, but Miss Teak gave them her most vicious SHUSH possible. They got quiet, a strange, serious, scary kind of quiet.
Colton walked out of the room without another word.