Despite Compton's reputation for violence and failing schools, Redman said the academic skills of her Compton students are better than those of their Rochester counterparts. And, she said, inner-city schools are not automatically more dangerous.
"City schools have this myth of being violent, with a lot of drugs, a lot of fights, teachers that can't teach. Here or in Rochester," Redman said, "I've never seen any real violence. . . . I've never experienced . . . violence and classroom disruption."
Still, the problems her students face in their daily lives are not lost on her. "I called a couple students who hadn't come to class first period and the mothers said, 'Well, somebody's after them and I'm keeping them in the house until they can be transferred to another school in another district.' "
Dillard, a burly former college football player who towers over his students at Ronald E. McNair Elementary School, said Compton is not much different ethnically or economically than the neighborhood where he grew up in Bakersfield. As a result, he believes, he has established a special rapport with his 29 fifth-graders.
During a recent social studies lesson, they were having difficulty grasping the meaning of "population distribution." Dillard employed a familiar metaphor. Imagine, he told them, that they were walking along with a large group of friends looking for a place to eat.
"Some of you walked into McDonald's, some into Burger King and some into Kentucky Fried Chicken. That's population distribution."
Dillard said he is teaching in Compton because he wants to do for youngsters there what his own second- and third-grade teachers did for him. "They really pushed me . . . so I wouldn't have to get caught in the cycle that (minority youngsters) get caught up in . . . staying in a poverty-stricken area of town, staying in the lower socioeconomic scale."
The two teachers, he said, steered him into enrichment programs that put him on track to college. He attended Stanford on an athletic scholarship, graduating in June, 1988, with a sociology degree.
"I think I have quite a few students who are a lot brighter than what they think they are and what they give themselves credit for," he said.
After graduation, Dillard worked for a year for Pros for Kids, a nonprofit group founded by professional athletes to conduct drug-education programs in schools. He asked to teach fifth grade, he said, because he believes it offers the best chance to make an impression. Once youngsters get into junior high school, he said, they often fall victim to peer pressure that leads them toward drugs and away from educational values.
McKinney comes from an upper-middle-class black background. His father is dean of admissions at UC Santa Barbara. McKinney's mother and several other relatives, including an aunt who taught in Inglewood schools, were educators. Although he went to largely all-white, upper-middle-class schools in Santa Barbara, the struggles of other black people have always been part of his life, he said.
When his mother was growing up in the South, he said, she would get school assignments to read books that were readily available in the town library. "But she wasn't allowed in," McKinney said.
Attending Morehouse in Atlanta, the Rev. Martin Luther King's alma mater, reinforced his commitment to make a contribution to society, McKinney said. Eventually, he wants to continue his studies and, like his father, get a Ph.D and teach, probably history, at the college level.
For now, though, McKinney takes obvious delight in his third-graders, strolling the aisles, handing out praise at every turn.
"I like the way Alonzo's sitting," he said to a youngster in the back of the room.
"I like the way Gerald's working. Very good, Gerald," he said to another boy.