On a chilly winter morning in a tiny pocket of Silicon Valley known as North Fair Oaks, Everest Public High School is buzzing with energy. Out front, a tall, skinny teen jumps out of a black Porsche SUV; moments later, three young women in matching black hoodies stream out of the front seat of a Toyota pickup that’s filled with trowels, buckets, and a ladder.
I head inside—past the minimalist garden, the modern wood paneling, and the soaring glass foyer—and down the hall to Room 207, where I’d been observing a popular English teacher named Jenny Macho lead AP Literature classes the past couple of weeks. When I arrive, she is sitting at the front of the class with 15-year-old sophomore Marisol Vega while 20 other students are scattered throughout the room, peering at the screens of their school-issued black Google Chromebooks.
Once a week, Marisol and her classmates have what the school calls “personalized-learning time,” a dedicated six-hour slot when students work on individual assignments and receive one-on-one tutoring from their designated faculty mentor. Her leg nervously bouncing under the table, Marisol tells Macho she’s been struggling with Things Fall Apart, the novel by Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe that her class started reading last week, and it’s got her stressed out about her world literature essay that’s due soon. Together, they decide that Marisol should meet with her English teacher, Ms. Nelson, and she sets about writing an email to schedule an appointment during office hours. Meanwhile, senior Michelle Villagomez waits her turn nearby, watching a video in which Macho discusses how authors use word choice to alter the meaning, tone, and mood of a text.