For a year now, the fifth graders have been best friends. They live 12 houses from each other on a busy, Norwalk, Conn., street. Marbella, born to a Columbian mother and Panamanian father, is outspoken, fearless, a natural leader. Hydea, an African-American who lives with her grandmother, is shy, tall, unsure of herself. Neither is a strong student or skilled reader. But they struggle for different reasons. Marbella’s priority is being social. She’s not particularly interested in working hard in school. She’ll fulfill an assignment, but seldom provide more than the bare minimum required. Hydea tries hard, yet lacks confidence. She’s the type of student who begs anonymity, who would never raise her hand in class, even if she knew the correct answer. Both would benefit from the help of Mrs. Schaefer, the school’s literacy specialist. But because of time constraints – a result of the pressure she feels to lift school reading scores on the state standardized test tied to No Child Left Behind – she can work with just one. Though the girls don’t know it, they are locked in a contest for Mrs. Schaefer’s attention. The one not chosen could be in danger of falling even further behind.