PATERSON, NJ - Sixth-grader Shubha Debnath spends three hours a night reading. "Not studying,'' he says. "Learning.''
Sometimes, 14-year-old Ashley Elledge's mother brings her diner to her room because she so preoccupied with her studies. Ninth-grader Desiree Peterson easily gets lost in her books: "Once I get started on something, I can't quit.''
Apparently, that's what it takes to attain perfection. They were among 122 Paterson Public Schools students who had perfect math scores on last spring's New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge tests. In fact, the three of them went one step beyond the other 119 brainiacs - they attained perfect scores in other sections of the test in addition to math. Debnath did it in language arts, while Elledge and Peterson had perfect scores in science.
Their achievements were cause for celebration at the January 19 Board of Education meeting. Several hundred parents, students, siblings and teachers crowded the auditorium at Kennedy High School as the students received certificates for their accomplishment.
Their perfect scores were all the more impressive considering that less than half of Paterson's students score high enough to reach state proficiency levels in the tests, which were given last April.
"We don't lower the bar in Paterson,'' said Assemblywoman Nellie Pou. "The bar is set high because we know our students certainly are capable of reaching it.''
"This is an outstanding accomplishment,'' said Schools Superintendent Donnie Evans, "one that's worthy of recognition and celebration.''
Debnath, who attends School 5, wasn't too surprised by his perfect scores. "Not really, it's usual,'' he said.
"He works really, really hard and if he doesn't know something, he will search it out on his own,'' said the boy's father, Banamali Debnath.
"There are certain things I might not know and he knows,'' said his 16-year-old sister, Happy Debi, herself an A student.
Ashley Elledge, who was an 8th grader at Martin Luther King school last April when she took the tests, wasn't home when her mother, Chantel Stone, received the letter about her perfect scores. "I was ecstatic,'' said Stone. "I couldn't wait until she got home from school so I could share the experience with her.''
Elledge seems to epitomize Pou's comments about setting the bar high. She wants to go to Harvard. "I want to do a double major,'' she said. "Psychology and family law.''
Desiree Peterson, who was a classmate of Elledge's at Martin Luther King school, also hopes to go to Harvard. "Some things come easy, other things you have to work hard for,'' she said. "I just love the feeling I get when I see good grades.''
Peterson gets that feeling quite often. She was her school's valedictorian last year, said her mother, Suzanne Peterson. "She's very goal-oriented,'' said her mother.
A complete list of names of the students who attained perfect scores was not available from the school district.