Courtesy of Michael Manion

Recently on my way back from a well-deserved surfing trip to Baja, I had quite an interesting experience. My traveling buddy and I were staying with Geoff, a friend in Los Angeles who couldn't join our expedition. Although a passionate globetrotting surfer himself, Geoff is more dedicated to his students than to the call of the ocean. While we spent a few days recovering from Baja-belly and from sampling the local surf, he invited us to school to talk with his students about our careers. As further enticement, he offered to show us the 12-foot albino python he keeps in his classroom--part of a twisted award system for students.

His institution, Elizabeth Hudson School, is a California Distinguished School, which means it performs much higher than schools with students from similar backgrounds (80% of the students are on meal programs (free or reduced cost) for low-income...

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