The Secret of Room 56? "Be Nice, Work Hard"

(CBS)
From the moment I entered Rafe Esquith's fifth grade classroom at Hobart Elementary School in Los Angeles, I knew it was a special place.

The room is not bright and colorful or wired with the latest technology. In fact, room 56 is rather small and ordinary, jammed with clusters of desks, a few old computers sit in the corner. What makes it extraordinary are the 29 bright, eager 10 year olds, of every human color, infected with the joy of learning – serious learning. Ask them what are their favorite books and they respond: "Of Mice & Men," "Lord Of The Flies," Huckleberry Finn," "Macbeth."

"Macbeth," you say? That was my reaction.

Now understand, this is not some pricey private school. Hobart Elementary sits on the edge of downtown Los Angeles, in the middle of a low-income community of immigrants from Latin America, Asia and Africa. English is the second language of most. These students too often are left behind.

But room 56 is a world apart. The test scores and reading levels are way up, but what matters more to Rafe Esquith is that they absorb the class motto: "Be nice, work hard." It's a mantra they say every day and it works. Some of his students go on to the best private schools in the city and the best universities in the country. Ask his former students and they'll tell you, they learned the key to success in their 5th grade classroom.

Rafe Esquith says what he does is not magic, he just works hard and cares about his students.

I beg to differ. What I saw in room 56 was magical indeed.

  • Bill Whitaker

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