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Biology teacher Andy Kwok teaches a class at Excel High School . (Jane Tyska/The Oakland Tribune

Within months of college graduation, Andy Kwok found himself in a West Oakland classroom. For the last nine months, he has taught biology in a low-income, predominately African-American part of the city with a rich cultural legacy, but a poor educational track record.

At EXCEL, one of two new high schools on the McClymonds campus, Kwok has struggled to keep his students motivated and focused on microbiology and genetics. Some are skipping, disrupting or failing his class.

Despite those setbacks, Kwok has decided to stay, at least for another year. The staff at the small high school were a big part of his decision; he said he doubted he'd find teachers and administrators as supportive anywhere else. But he said the students, even the troublesome ones, were the main reason he will return. Kwok is just one of some 2,500 classroom teachers in the district, but his decisiony will make his school that much more stable.

The continuity in a school district that hires hundreds of rookie teachers each fall could benefit students like Sunshine Mapp Parker, 15, who has moved at least six times in the last eight years, and who takes three buses to school; Brandon Stewart, 15, who is determined to muscle his way through a four-year college with discipline and hard work; and Travon Adkins, 15, who is one of the brightest minds in the room. These three students are featured in this installment of "My First Year," an ongoing series chronicling Kwok's experience at EXCEL.



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