Third grade math isn't for the squeamish.
Jeremiah Osborne, an 8-year-old who is tall for his age, and whose eyes seem incapable of concealing a single emotion, proved this on Thursday morning inside his classroom at Gerald Adams Elementary.
Here, the kids mostly work in teams. They listen to one another and work together.
But Jeremiah now sat alone at his desk after huddling with a group of four classmates and their teacher, Meghan Taylor. He put down his pencil and silently rested his head in his hands over his math book.
Page 54 wanted him to write a question for a story problem, using a series of five-digit numbers. The point was to teach the kids that certain words go with subtraction, like "difference," while words such as "sum" and "altogether" are clues that the problem requires addition.
Can't, Jeremiah's expression read.
He stood up and leaned forward over his desk, pulling a red satin sports team jacket over him.
In an hour or so, he'd find success during science, measuring pictures with a ruler and then using a magnifying glass.
But today's math was a different story.
From the back of the classroom, Taylor's teacher-radar picked up Jeremiah's quiet frustration, even though she was huddled up with a second group of 8- and 9-year-olds.
She gently coached Jeremiah back into the academic starting blocks.
"Sit in your chair and take a deep breath," said Taylor, looking up from the blue half-moon shaped table, where five children sat, chewing over the same problem as Jeremiah.
"Look at the chart before you read the question and before you give up," Taylor told him gently.
As the new five-kid huddle worked it out, listening to one another's attempts, Jeremiah sat down and picked up the pencil, eyes back on the page.
Trying, his face clearly said.
This is the type of team learning that goes on daily inside Gerald Adams, which as of Friday, had 73 children in three separate third-grade classes, and which last year, rose an entire letter grade on the state's rating system to earn an "A," after a prior year at a B. For a few years prior to the B, Gerald Adams had remained an "A" rated school.
In the 14 years that Florida has used the letter grade system to rate schools, Gerald Adams has received five Cs, four Bs, and five As.
The elementary, which has pre-kindergarten through Grade 5, and is located on Stock Island, celebrated the A rating like an underdog football team marvels in its newfound glory on the field.
Then-superintendent, Jesus Jara, name checked the school in an announcement and proudly singled out the achievement to the School Board.
In a district of 12 public schools, Gerald Adams became the ninth to carry an A rating last year.
One of three traditional public elementaries in Key West, Gerald Adams reflects the district's academic prowess for Florida's tests and rating criteria, it does not reflect Monroe County's overall public school demographics.
At Gerald Adams, 48 percent of students are Hispanic, 25 percent are black and 24 percent are white.
The district's combined 8,300 students are 52 percent white, 34 percent Hispanic and 10 percent black.
Poorer kids make up the majority of Adams' student roster, as 73 percent of the children qualify for and receive free and reduced lunches -- the national barometer for measuring low-income families.
Throughout Monroe County schools, the majority of students can afford to buy lunches, while 48 percent qualify for free and reduced meals.
Last year, Principal Frannie Herrin went before the School Board to inform them that some of her students were new to the U.S. and, until arriving, had never before seen a working faucet or toilet. Many do not speak English, she told them.
Florida changed its grading formula on the standardized FCAT test to include scores from special needs students and students who speak English as a second language, which previously hadn't counted.
The FCAT, required to pass in order to move on from third grade and then, in 10th grade, to graduate, looms large over schools such as Gerald Adams.
At the mention of the acronym "FCAT," 8- and 9-year-old eyes widen in Taylor's classroom. They know it's serious business.
"It's hard," Jeremiah said.
The district's new superintendent found Gerald Adams an engaging school.
"It's a great school because of the diversity," said Superintendent Mark Porter, who is in his first school year. "They're doing a great job. There is something to be said about the 'open classrooms' there. It creates a kind of collegial feel."
Porter, a veteran educator from Minnesota, spent the first day of the school year visiting Gerald Adams. The air-conditioning went out, but students and teachers pressed on in the heat.
Porter said he likes an elementary school that makes him feel over-sized.
"I've always been a little biased toward the older buildings," he said. "The architectural scale is a little smaller, more kid-friendly."
Taylor's classroom, which has partitions as walls separating it from other classes, is a tight-knit space. Taylor worries about the noise level often.
But the learning goes on.
Like that math problem: There was an election of some sort between Jacob and Martin, the math book advised. Martin won 16,888 votes, while the total ballot box take was 18,736.
Taylor told him, and the rest of her 25 students that spend the day learning reading, math, writing and science with her.
Jeremiah wasn't alone with his mental wrestling over Jacob and Martin and this election, and Taylor could sense it.
"You know why it's hard? Because it's taking you to a different place," Taylor said. "We're just trying to look at it from a different perspective."
Soon, there was P.E. and then lunch, two periods that the students aren't with Taylor, whose planning period is included in that space in the daily routine.
Taylor's class is just over the Florida class-size mandate, which allows for a teacher-to-student ratio of 1-to-18, plus three students.
Of the three third-grade classes last week, one held 22 students and the other 23. The numbers fluctuate throughout the district at the start of every school year.
By Oct. 1, the district must report its enrollment, which on Friday was 8,300, in order to receive Florida's per-student allocation.
Porter said the district is fine-tuning its class sizes and teacher roster, and will abide by the law.
"We are committed to being compliant with class-size mandates," said Porter. "We'd like to say we could have it all done sooner and quicker."
The class numbers don't faze parent Gerald Fisher, whose son Joseph attended Gerald Adams for seven years before moving on to Horace O'Bryant Middle School.
Joseph, 12, is autistic. Fisher's daughter, 10-year-old Deshawn, is in fourth grade at Adams.
"The teachers kept me informed about things that I needed and whenever Joseph had a problem, the teacher made me aware of it," said Fisher. "We kept in communication."
Fisher, 61, is a Vietnam veteran battling throat cancer and raising his two children alone, as his wife is serving a prison sentence.
Gerald Adams is close to his Stock Island home, and his kids can catch the school bus, said Fisher.
Adams has been a longtime part of the Fisher family, through tough times.
"As far as students in the classroom, there is just enough to a class for one teacher," said Fisher, praising the school for helping his children. "I think it's very nice."