Stacks of paper form a solid border around Ankur Arya’s desk. The tests, quizzes and worksheets are filled with equations and bear the handwritten names of the various students who submitted them. To these kids, he’s Mr. Arya.

Upon finishing school at Haverford College in 2012, Arya joined Teach for America for a two-year commitment. But something compelled him to stay at Thomas A. Edison Charter School in Wilmington, so he stuck around.

Edison is in a section of Wilmington plagued by crime, poverty and high unemployment rates—typical problems that have affected inner cities for decades and eroded their public schools. Expectations for kids there are low. But teachers like Arya are manufacturing new ones…

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