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Cody, by Jessica Dur Taylor

If it were any other teenager, I’d just laugh. A black diamond? You must be crazy. But it’s Cody, whose shenanigans I know by heart. Who listens in class, does all the assigned reading. Who still blushes like he did when he was eleven, still thinks his English teacher is cool.

It’s a glorious, frozen wet Wednesday on the mountain, peopled sparse as the desert highway, and we’re on our sixth snow trip together. Cody and I have done countless runs over the years: Cody getting stronger, fitter, braver while I coast, a steady plateau of green and blue runs. These trips are part of what make Nonesuch School true to its name. The first year I couldn’t believe it: all fifty students in one house, the staff too, in Tahoe, in the snow? But once we were there, the kids unfurling sleeping bags in closets and shouting dibs on the hot tub, I knew it would be just like our school, the best kind of madness.

Surrounded by redwoods, meadows, and a spring-fed creek, Nonesuch looked more like a summer camp than a school. Each classroom was retrofitted with its own quiet hysteria—some had worn leather couches, others (like mine) had built-in bookshelves and angled ceilings. The students (grouped by skill level, not grade) were mostly brassy public school rejects, too smart to believe adults. They startled me with their knowledge. As a teenager, I ate Twinkies and watched Saved by the Bell after school; these kids turned their noses up at high fructose corn syrup, would rather play bongos than video games.

I started teaching when I was twenty-six and fresh out of grad school, excited by my heavy load of five English classes, from junior high Basic Lit to upperclassmen Advanced Comp. When I assigned homework the very first day, the kids were dubious. The new English teacher doesn’t take shit. Not as nice as she looks. But by the second semester, most of them had started to appreciate my high expectations, were glimpsing the joys of play-acting scenes and writing sestinas. Only the littlest ones—sixth graders, rascally and unafraid, new to the school just like me—were still unsure.

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