First Day of School
“What the . . . ?” Gripping the vinyl passenger seat of the VW bus, I try not to hit the window as my father takes a corner too fast in his rush not to be late for our first day at Boston’s illustrious Anton High School.
“Language, Sara,” he says, shooting me a stern look.
“I didn’t say it.”
“You didn’t need to.” He rolls his window halfway down. “It was implied.”
The rush of September air is so cool and crisp it almost shatters. You can practically hear the cracking spines of new textbooks in the wind and my finger is already bleeding from the jagged bite my three-ring binder will give me in class later today.
Another corner so tight the van nearly flips. This time, my cheek hits cold glass. “Are we on the run?”
He pats my knee and I notice he smells like cologne. Upon further inspection, I notice he’s shaved his normally short gray hair even closer to his head and carved his tidy beard’s edge to perfection. “Didn’t count on this much traffic. Rule number one for starting a new job: Be on time.”
Rule number one at Anton High—crowned “North America’s Most Elite and Most Bizarre Public School” by Time magazine—no one is admitted after the ninth grade, no matter how thick their coke-bottle glasses are.
Think about it. A tuition-free school that practically guarantees a kid’s admittance to the Ivy League college of her choice. In a leafy, historical neighborhood with a low crime rate. Its doors flung open to kids from all treads of life. The American Dream with lockers, right? Wrong. Whoever created the place didn’t count on the scholastic hysteria it would breed among the privileged. Regular families, no matter how brilliant their kids, can’t compete with moneyed parents willing to do anything to guarantee little Thompson or Oleander’s future. Even if it means paying $15,000 per year for a cram school created to prep their wheezing, sneezing urchins for one sparkly moment—the Anton High School entrance exam.
After writing the entrance paper—a brutal test some 11,000 gifted students take in March of their eighth-grade year—only 175 get in. They’re the Cream of the Gifted Crop. The other 10,825, the Lesser Gifteds, have to live with that failure the remainder of their suddenly pointless lives. That Anton is tougher to get into than Harvard will do little to soothe their scrabbed-up egos. Ant grads go on to become U.S. senators, Nobel Prize and Academy Award winners, astronauts, Olympic athletes, and international chess champions. There was also that brainy Miss America who contorted her body into the Nike symbol for the talent segment, but rumor is she never finished senior year.
All of which explains why the school is considered elite. Why it’s called bizarre is too obvious to mention.
It’s 100 percent stocked with nerds and brainiacs. Forget quarterbacks, starting pitchers, and pom-pom wielding cheerleaders. If they exist at all, they’re probably ashamed of themselves. The real royalty of the school are national robotics warlords, science wizards, and mathletes. I’ve even heard there are two kids who are published authors. With all this brain muscle crammed into one Boston high school, you’ve got to expect a whole lot of deviant behavior, right?
So how was I, Sara Black, long-standing math geek from Lundon, Massachusetts, allowed to take the Anton High School entrance exam the summer before eleventh grade and get admitted to the most sought-after school in North America?
Simple. My father is the new janitor.
“Rule number two,” Dad continues, “is dress professionally. I’ve even ironed my socks and underwear.”
I let out a long sigh. “You’re going to fit right in.”
“Your wardrobe influences how you are adjudged by new people.” He glances over at my Dubble Bubble T-shirt, graffitied jeans, cherry red Doc Martens. Turning back to the traffic, he mumbles, “Your father wants to be seen as a sanitation professional right down to his underclothes.”
As nervous as I am, I allow myself a smile. “Adjudged?”