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There are bright students in the District’s school system who master their three R’s, and then there are students whose learning takes place outside the academic setting. A sixth- grader at one city school demonstrated this last week during a tutorial session. The girl faced an upcoming spelling test, and brought a list of the 20 words she needed to learn—words like “protein,” “vitamin,” and “fleece.” Her spelling skills were terrible, and she got only a few words correct on the first try. Her problem was simple: She’d never seen many of the words before and didn’t know what they meant. “Cathedral,” for example, was a mystery. First she learned to pronounce it, then to define it, and finally to spell it. But deep in the list was something more familiar—“millimeter.” She worked her way through the pronunciation, then she moved to the next step. Asked for a definition, the pupil demonstrated that some D.C. kids are learning survival skills, if not their ABCs. “Millimeter,” she said. “Is that a kind of gun?”