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At a private school in Los Angeles, students can earn class credit for hitting a teacher.

The all-girls' Marlborough School recently began offering full-impact self-defense classes--which involve mock combat with an instructor--to teach young women the importance of protecting themselves.

Though some schools offer limited martial-arts training to their students, Marlborough is a leader in using the full-impact method, where a male instructor wearing protective padding acts as an assailant. Students are taught how to fight off a "mugger" and strategies to help them avoid attack.

School officials say self-defense classes can help young women better understand how to protect themselves from the threat of sexual or other assault.

The environment is the number-one concern of America's schoolchildren, a survey released last month says.

Twice as many children expressed concern for the environment than any other specific issue, a survey of 40,000 public and private school students by the Caring Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit organization, found.

The students ranked environmental problems--along with racism, homelessness, violent crime, and abuse--as society's most serious challenges. They also expressed concern about such subjects as poverty, abortion, drugs, war, floods, and aids.

"Schoolchildren show an amazing grasp of the problems that confront our society and significant knowledge of what must be done to correct them," Bill Halamandaris, the president of the institute, said in a statement.

The Horatio Alger Association has awarded $5,000 college scholarships this year to 85 high school seniors who have overcome adversity to achieve academic success.

The country's only financial-aid program that specifically honors students who have succeeded despite considerable odds will award more than $700,000 in scholarships this year.

Recent recipients include an honors student with a limited income who has leukemia and wants to earn a degree in biology and a self-supporting senior who was orphaned at 7 and who dreams of becoming an architect.

The Alexandria, Va.-based association was named after Horatio Alger, a 19th-century American author who wrote inspirational adventure stories featuring characters who triumphed in the face of adversity.

--Jessica Portner

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