Sunday, December 26, 2010

Coming Soon: Episode 3

Be watching for "Wishing on a Star", starring Tonya Hickman and Amos Owens.

Will a New Year mean new love for two lonely teens?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Speak Up!

Please share your thoughts, your comments, and your personal stories.

Have you been a victim of harrassment? How do you think schools should handle bullies?
What's YOUR school doing?

A Message from Mr. Kincaid

From the desk of Russell Kincaid, Principal

Bullies are found in every school throughout the country. Too often, bullying is the way young people interact today. Every school must recognize this inappropriate behavior and take steps to stop it. Twinbrook High School is no exception.

If bullying behavior is ignored or downplayed, students will suffer. Bullying and harrassment can cause lifelong damage to its victims. When a school fails to deal with bullies, the well-being of all its students is jeopardized. Allowing this improper behavior to continue creates a hostile environment which interferes with learning.

Bullying will NOT be tolerated at Twinbrook High.


Bullying behavior is any form of deliberate, hurtful behavior or harrassment. This includes physical acts, such as hitting, kicking, or damaging another student's personal property. It also includes verbal abuse, such as name-calling and insults. Bullying can also be emotional or social. This includes spreading rumors, deliberately slighting others or subjecting other students to ridicule.


An unfortunate incident recently occurred involving students from this school. Although I regret that the incident happened, I am relieved that the issue is now out in the open and the extent of bullying behavior at Twinbrook High can be addressed. I am now asking that all students pledge to prevent bullying behavior at our school. Do not support those who harrass others; do not give approval to inappropriate behavior. If you see any student subjected to harrassment, speak up! Do not remain silent; do not look the other way. Take a stand, step forward, and offer any assistance possible to students who are being harrassed.


Beginning Monday, January 3, when we return from holidays, Room 24 will be designated as a "Safe Haven" area. Any student who feels threatened, abused, bullied, or harrassed may go to the Safe Haven at any time. Students who are interested in becoming Safe Haven volunteers should stop by my office for additional information.


A meeting for all school staff and parents of Twinbrook High School students will be held on Tuesday evening, January 4, at 7:00 PM. Additional counseling and special programs will be put into place if deemed necessary.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Jethro - A Troubled Teen

Jethro Wilson ignored the whispers as he walked into homeroom. Kids in school were always whispering about him, always pointing fingers, always laughing at him. They'd been doing it since way back in first or second grade. He'd gotten used to it.


Not that he liked it. To tell the truth, he hated it, but what could he do about it? Nothing. Just ignore them. That was what his dad always said. Don't stoop to their level, Jethro. That was his mom's advice, although he didn't really understand what she meant.

But the whispers today ... well, there was something different about them. There was something different, too, in the way the kids looked at him.

This was Jethro's first year at Twinbrook High. Over the summer, he'd hoped that maybe things would be different now. Maybe the other kids would stop laughing at him when he tripped or lost his balance. It was because of his lazy eye, that's all. He'd hoped, too, that maybe they'd stop calling him names. Retard. Idiot.

That's what hurt the most.

But names were just words, right?

He could ignore them if he just tried a little harder.

Jethro tensed when he saw Larry Gee. Big, tall, star basketball player -- Larry and his friends were always harrassing him, always pushing him around, always trying to start trouble.


"Hey, Jethro, how's it going?" Larry asked, stepping in front of him to block his way.

"OK. I gotta get to class now."

Larry moved in front of him as he tried to walk past. "Been on the Internet lately?"

"Nah, not lately." Jethro frowned, not understanding why Larry would ask about the Internet. "Look, I don't want to be late for class." Once more, he tried to walk around, but Larry was quicker.

"Yeah, right. Everybody knows what you've been doing, I heard about that message you sent Georgia."

Jethro didn't remember sending any message to Georgia. Why would he send her a message? What would he say to a pretty, popular girl like her?

Just then Georgia came up to Larry. The two of them laughed together, and they forgot all about Jethro.


He headed on to his class, but the bell rang before he got there. Great. Another tardy mark on his record. It's not like he was late on purpose, it was just because of --


"Jethro Wilson! Get your books and come with me. Now. Mr. Shoemaker wants to see you."

He froze. He knew Mr. Carpenter was upset about him being late again, but why was he yelling? Jethro didn't understand what was happening. Why was he being sent to the assistant principal's office for one tardy mark?


June Wilson stirred up another serving of pancakes. She'd be glad when the breakfast rush was over at the diner. She'd worked every morning for the last two weeks straight.


"Phone call for you, June," said her boss, gesturing for her to come to his office. "It's the school."

June's shoulders sagged. Jethro was in trouble. Again.

Fourteen years before, when her little boy was born, June Wilson had been the happiest woman on earth. She and George had been married for such a long time, and even though they'd both wanted a big family, they'd all but given up hope of ever having a child. And then, Jethro came along. The day he was born was the happiest day of June Wilson's life. They were a real family, at last.


Even from the start, Jethro seemed a little slow to learn new things, but his parents loved him all the same. Children progress at different rates, their doctor explained. In time, Jethro learned to walk and talk. He fell down a lot, but he always laughed, got back up, and went on.


As Jethro got older, George and June were sure he'd do well in school. When he turned six and went off to Twinbrook Elementary, everything seemed fine.


At first.

Then, the problems began.


Miss Victoria, the principal at Twinbrook Elementary, minced no words when reporting Jethro's behavioral problems.

"Your son is extremely uncoordinated. He has poor motor skills, doesn't relate well to the other children in class, and refuses to pay attention to his teachers." She barely paused long enough to take a breath. "He's disruptive in class and is always starting trouble. If he doesn't learn how to behave, I'll have to have him removed from this school."

Removed? From first grade? Surely, she had to be joking.

June soon realized how serious the situation was. The other kids, she found out, were making fun of Jethro, teasing him, and ridiculing him. Of course he acted out! Who wouldn't?


But it really wasn't Jethro's fault. An eye examination showed that he had a "lazy eye", and a visit to an orthopedist revealed that one of Jethro's legs was a little longer than the other. No wonder he had problems running and catching a ball!


George and June talked to their son. "Don't let them upset you," they advised. "Just leave the other kids alone, and they'll leave you alone, too." Too bad it didn't work that way.

"Jethro's a sissy!"

That's when the name-calling began. If Jethro fought back, he was called a trouble-maker. If he refused to fight, he was called a sissy. Poor kid. He couldn't win no matter what he did.

June shook off the memories and fought to hold back tears. "I've got to go," she told her boss, rushing out of the diner. She didn't even have time to take off her apron. Jethro was in trouble. Big trouble.


She stopped just long enough to call her husband. "Meet me at Twinbrook High right away."

By the time she reached the school, she was shaking like a leaf. Never in her life had she been so angry -- or so afraid.


George and June met at the school. "Don't worry, we'll get through this," he assured her. "Things will be all right."


But June had a feeling that things would never be all right again. She was so upset, nothing George said could calm her down.



"I hope you have a good lawyer," warned Mr. Shoemaker, the assistant principal.

"Where's Mr. Kincaid?" George asked. He knew the principal was open-minded and willing to listen to reason. His hopes plummeted when Shoemaker explained that Kincaid was out of town attending a conference all week.

"I'm in charge here," the assistant principal said with a smirk.

"Tell us what happened, please," begged June.

"Your son brought a gun to school. He sent a message to one of the girls warning her that he was going to come in and start shooting. Fortunately she reported Jethro, so I was able to prevent it from happening."


"A gun? An internet message?" June and her husband exchanged glances then turned toward Mr. Shoemaker. "We don't have any guns in our home," June insisted. "And Jethro rarely uses the internet. He hasn't been online in over a week."

"Maybe you need to watch your son a little better." Mr. Shoemaker's eyes narrowed. "It's bad parents who make for bad kids. If you paid more attention to Jethro --"


George flew out of his chair, ready to throw a few punches at Shoemaker's smirky face. His wife restrained him.

"Don't lose your temper, George," she counseled. "That will only make things worse."

She struggled to remain calm. "Where is our son?" she demanded to know. "Did you find a gun in his possession? And have you seen the message he allegedly sent?" She leaned forward with her hands on Shoemaker's desk. "Who is this girl? Have you questioned her story?"

"Georgia Tessler is the student who reported Jethro." Shoemaker straightened his tie and resumed his seat. "I had no reason to doubt what she said. She comes from a good family. Mr. Tessler is on the City Council, you know." His eyes surveyed the Wilsons with a look of disapproval. George was a mechanic, and June worked at the diner. Obviously, in Shoemaker's eyes, they weren't quite acceptable. "Besides," he continued, "I had to act immediately. The lives of the students were at risk. I couldn't take any chances."

George nodded. "We understand your zeal to protect the kids. We worry about Jethro's safety every time he gets on the bus. But he's not the one causing the problems. Our son has been bullied and pushed around for years."

Shoemaker smirked. "And now, he's bringing a gun to school and planning to get even."


"Show me the gun, Mr. Shoemaker. And show me a copy of the message Jethro sent to Georgia Tessler. Until you can produce some evidence, I refuse to believe my son has done anything wrong."

"I didn't find a gun," Shoemaker admitted. "And Georgia says she deleted the message as soon as she'd read it. She said she was scared, so I can understand why she got rid of it." He picked up a file on his desk and handed it to Mrs. Wilson. "Here's the statement she gave me, if you want to read it yourself. She says she worried about the message all night. After she got to school this morning, she knew she had to speak up."

June studied the report and looked at the picture of Georgia paper-clipped to it. She recognized her, at once.


"She's been dating Larry Gee," June said. "The two of them have come into the diner together a few times. Along with some of their other friends." She turned to her husband. "Larry and his basketball buddies are the same boys who've tormented Jethro all these years." She looked back at Mr. Shoemaker and handed him his report. "For some reason, the school refuses to do anything about those bullies. It's easier to blame Jethro than to admit there's a problem." She got to her feet. "We're taking Jethro home now. He won't be coming back to this school."


"No, he won't," agreed Mr. Shoemaker. "I've expelled him. He's not allowed on school property, so you'd better make sure he stays far away."


None of it was true, of course. Jethro had no gun, he'd never sent any message to Georgia Tessler, and why would he want to hurt anybody? Yeah, the kids made fun of him, but he'd learned to ignore them. Once in a while, he did get angry or upset, but doesn't everybody?


At home over the next few days, things grew worse for Jethro. His parents believed him, of course, but he knew no one else did. He sat around the house while his mother and father worked all day, and he felt more and more alone. It was hard to get through life without friends. He'd never been happy, Jethro realized. Even worse, he knew he never would find any real happiness. He had no future. What was the point in living?



On Tuesday, June worked the late afternoon shift. George was working late at the garage. She was exhausted when she got home from work. When she reached the house, it was eerily quiet -- and dark.


Her heart lurched. Had Jethro gone out? She'd asked him to stay at home, and he was always an obedient boy. She hoped he hadn't gone back to the school and gotten into trouble with Shoemaker again.

She stepped inside and turned on the light, then screamed in terror! Jethro was hanging from a noose, his feet kicking wildly, his face turning a sickening shade of blue. Thank goodness, she'd come home when she did! Jethro was still alive! She raced across the room to help the son she loved so dearly, then with trembling hands she called 911.


She called her husband, too, and told him to go directly to Twinbrook Medical Center.


For several days, Mrs. Wilson sat at her son's bedside at the hospital. How close she had come to losing him! All because of those awful bullies at the school. Mr. Shoemaker stopped by the hospital one afternoon and made a feeble apology. His investigation had turned up no evidence that Jethro had done anything wrong. Still, the assistant principal defended his own actions. His first thought had been protecting the students. Mrs. Wilson understood that, but why didn't the school officials worry about protecting Jethro?


"May I come in, Mrs. Wilson?"

She heard a light tapping at the door of Jethro's hospital room. When she looked up and saw Georgia Tessler standing in the doorway, she stiffened.

"What do you want, Georgia?" she asked, her voice cold.

"I have to apologize. I'm really sorry I lied about Jethro! It was just supposed to be a harmless little joke, that's all." Georgia looked truly contrite. "It was Larry's idea. He thought it would be funny. I never thought --"


"That's right," June snapped. "You didn't think! You didn't think about Jethro. You didn't think about the pain you were causing his father and me. You didn't once think about the consequences of your little prank. Jethro nearly died because of what you did."


"You're right. I've gone to Mr. Shoemaker, and I've told him everything. Larry and I are both being suspended for two weeks, and some of our other friends are facing disciplinary action, too. We're all really sorry, Mrs. Wilson. We never meant for this to happen. Jethro can come back to Twinbrook High now, and there won't be any more problems."



Jethro went home from the hospital a couple days later, and the next morning, he got up, got dressed, and grabbed his books.

"Yeah, Mom, I want to go back to school." He grabbed his jacket.

"You know there will be trouble. I don't want to worry about something happening --"

"Nothing's going to happen to me," he assured her, putting his arms around her and giving her a hug. "I don't think those kids at school will be playing any more pranks. At least, not for a while. I think maybe they've learned a lesson."


Jethro had learned a few lessons, too, he thought as he boarded the school bus that morning and headed back to Twinbrook High.


He knew there would always be kids who picked on him, but he also knew he had people who cared about him. His mother and father loved him. He thought about how upset his mother had been over all that had happened, and Jethro was really glad to be alive. Things looked bleak at times, but every day was a new day, and he could be strong enough to get through life, strong enough to keep smiling, and strong enough to reach out to others.


A lot of kids -- and the teachers, too -- were surprised to see Jethro back. They figured he'd be too afraid to come to school again. But they were wrong. Jethro wasn't going to let them hurt him anymore. He'd hold his head high, go to his classes, and he'd even talk to the students around him. He'd speak up more often in class, and if he made mistakes or said something stupid ... well, it wouldn't be the first time. Maybe he could even learn to laugh at himself a little.

Jethro knows he'll never be one of the popular kids at school, but he's glad that he came back to Twinbrook High after that awful incident. He's accepted Georgia Tessler's apology for the part she played, and he's starting to make a few real friends. He especially likes being friends with Donna.


She's been picked on before, too, so she really understands how Jethro feels. He's thinking about asking Donna if she'll go to the Sweetheart's Dance with him. It's coming up in February. He's got a lot to look forward to in his future now.

~ The End ~

Coming Soon: Episode 2

Episode 2 of The Teens of Twinbrook High is in the final wrap-up stages and will be posted soon. Be watching for it!


Friday, December 10, 2010

More About Merit

"Being homeless was a painful experience," says Merit Francis. "But it made me stronger, and it helped me realize how important it is for each of us to reach out and help others along the way."


Merit has always done well academically, and she's proud to be an Honor Roll student at Twinbrook High School. "Merit has a promising future ahead of her," says Mr. Kincaid, the principal.

She's a bit on the shy side and considers herself a true bookworm. "I love reading and writing. I love learning new things and asking questions about how things work."

Although her part-time job after school at Hanson's Grocery doesn't allow her much time for school clubs, she supports Twinbrook High in other ways. "I like wearing the school colors -- orange and green -- to show school spirit for our Hornets. I also like to contribute poems and articles for The Buzz, our school newspaper."

Merit hopes to earn a scholarship and attend college next year. She plans to become a social worker. "Since I know what it's like to be homeless and to have a broken family, I think I'd be able to understand how others feel when they're dealing with problems."

Good luck, Merit! Everyone at Twinbrook High agrees that she deserves a bright and happy future.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Buddy Bracken - An All-Around Good Guy


Buddy is a senior at Twinbrook High School, and he's earned a reputation as "the nice guy" in the class. He's always liked helping people, and he especially enjoys being a "student ambassador" who helps new students find their way around and get settled in at the school.

When Buddy's father passed away of a heart attack two years ago, both Buddy and his mother were devastated.

"It was totally unexpected," he recalls. "I didn't know how to deal with the grief."

Fortunately for Buddy and his mother, there were many support groups and organizations who helped them cope with their loss and take the steps they needed to put their lives back together and move on. For Buddy, it reinforced his own desire to help others.

"I'll never be able to repay all the kindnesses shown to my mom and me, but I'll always do whatever I can to help those in need."

According to his teachers, Buddy is a good student, consistently making B's and B+'s in all his classes. Government is his favorite class. "I like lunch a lot, too," he quips.

He's a member of the Civics club, Boys' Glee Club, and the Speech Club. Extra-curricular activities include working with Build-a-House Foundation and Teen Taxi, a program designed to provide transportation and handle errands for the elderly.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

New Girl at Twinbrook High

Episode One: A New Girl in School


For Merit Francis and her 10-year-old sister, Emily, it was another new day at another new school.

Times had been tough for their family ever since their father left. Merit's mother had been working at whatever jobs she could find, but life wasn't easy. They'd been forced to move into a homeless shelter in Twinbrook.

Little Emily hoped she'd be able to make new friends, but Merit wasn't too optimistic. Who would want to be friends with a girl who lived in a shelter? Even their clothes were hand-me-downs from charity.

Since their mother was ill that morning, Merit took Emily to her new school, Twinbrook Elementary. She spoke to the principal, Miss Victoria -- who was none too friendly. When she saw that Emily and Merit lived at the Twinbrook Center, her disdain was obvious.

"Does your sister have special needs?" the principal asked. "Is she able to read? To do arithmetic?"

Why did people always think that if you lived in a homeless shelter, there was something wrong with you? Over the last few months, Merit had encountered that attitude a lot, and she hated it.

As Merit walked on to the high school, she did a lot of thinking.
How had everything gone so wrong for her family?

She had no idea where her father was. Good riddance! In a lot of ways, there were better off without him. At least, they would be if her mom didn't have so many health problems to deal with.
Vivian Francis had worked hard to keep food on the table, but when she got sick, she started missing a lot of time. Soon, her boss at the factory fired her, and things went downhill from there.

Merit wished there was something more she could do. Once they
got settled in Twinbrook, maybe she could find a part-time job and
help out a little more.

As Twinbrook High came into view, Merit froze. She wasn't sure she was ready to face up to all the stares, the questions, the insults and ridicule. She sucked in a deep breath and prayed that somehow she'd make it through the day.

Twinbrook High

Merit was very surprised when she met with Mr. Kincaid, the Twinbrook High principal.

Unlike the snooty Miss Victoria from the elementary school, Mr. Kincaid was kind and understanding. He spoke to Merit about her future.

"According to your transcript, your grades have always been high. Have you thought about what college you'd like to attend and what you'd like to study?"

"College?" She shook her head. "There's no way I can go to college. As soon as I graduate at the end of this year, I'll have to get a job. College is out of the question."

"There are ways, Merit," he reminded her. "Don't close off any options." He then pressed a button on his intercom and spoke to the office assistant. He looked up at Merit and smiled. "I want to introduce you to one of Twinbrook High's Student Ambassadors."

When Merit turned around, she was surprised to see a nice-looking young man standing behind her.

"I'd like you to meet Buddy Bracken," said Mr. Kincaid. "He'll show you around the school, help you find your classes, and introduce you to some of the other students."

In no time at all, Merit felt completely at ease with Buddy. She liked him. He was easy to talk to and fun to be around. He told her all about the school, and threw in a few jokes, too. Best of all, he was really cute, especially when he laughed.

He was there to meet her after every class, and at the end of the day he fell into step alongside her as she started for home. But she couldn't let Buddy know where she lived! She felt ashamed and humiliated, afraid of what he'd think if he found out she lived at the homeless shelter.

She had to get rid of Buddy -- and fast!

"Look, you can stop following me around now," she snapped. "I don't need any more help."

A stricken look came over his face. She knew she'd hurt his feelings, but Merit didn't care.

She turned and ran before Buddy could even say a word. Thank goodness he didn't try to follow her or stop her!

When she got back to the shelter, she checked on her mom, then helped Emily with her homework. They ate at the shelter cafeteria, and soon it was time for bed.

"You've been very quiet, Merit" her mother said as they prepared for bed later that night. "Did things go all right at school today?"

"Did you meet any cute boys?" Emily chimed in.

Merit shrugged. She didn't really feel like talking. She felt awful about the way she'd treated Buddy. He was only trying to be friendly. She'd been wrong to be so rude. She made up her mind that she'd have to be honest with him -- if he'd even speak to her again.

Merit didn't see Buddy at all the next day until after she left school. Her heart actually skipped a beat when he waved at her. She hurried over to him and took a deep breath.

"I'm sorry for the way I acted yesterday," she blurted out. "You might as well know the truth. My family's having a hard time. My father walked out on us, my mom's been sick, and we're living at the Twinbrook Center."

"Yeah? So?" He didn't seem to understand what she was saying.

"It's a homeless shelter, Buddy."

"I know that." He smiled. "I'm sorry to hear that your family's having so many problems, but you're not alone, you know. With the economy as bad as it is, a lot of people have lost their homes. It's nothing to be ashamed of, Merit."

Nothing to be ashamed of? Was he crazy?

He was still standing there, still smiling. "I was hoping I'd see you today. I really enjoyed spending time with you yesterday, and I was wondering if maybe you'd like to go out with me sometime."

Yep, he was crazy all right. Merit blinked in surprise, but then shook her head. She knew why Buddy was asking her out. A lot of guys thought that homeless girls were easy, that they'd be so grateful at being asked out, they'd give a guy anything he wanted. Well, not Merit. She was smarter than that.

"Sorry, Buddy, but I don't think so." Merit turned and walked away, but this time, Buddy came after her.

"Please, Merit! Give me a chance, will you? How about Saturday morning? We could take a walk, maybe stop by the art gallery, or catch a movie."

The pleading look on his face nearly melted Merit's heart, but she shook her head again. "Forget it, Buddy. I know what you're really after, and I'm not that kind of girl. Just because I'm homeless, it doesn't mean I don't have morals!"

The smile faded from his face. "What? Do you really think I'm only asking you out because --" He shook his head. "That's not how it is, Merit. I'm asking you out because I like you. I want to spend more time with you and get to know you better."

She sighed. "Well, Saturday morning is out anyway. I'm going to be busy looking for a part-time job. I've got to find some way to help out financially."

"I've got a car," he said quickly. "It's not much, just an old jalopy, but it runs. I'll be glad to drive you around town so you can put in applications."

"You'd really do that ... for me?" Merit couldn't believe what she was hearing.

On Saturday morning, Buddy was there right on time with his "turquoise bomb". He smiled, opened the car door for Merit, and off they went. But he didn't take her out job-hunting.

"I want to show you something, Merit," he told her. "It's something that means a lot to me."

Curious, she nodded. "All right."

When they pulled up at a lot a short time later, Merit was baffled by what she saw. An unfinished house sat on the lot, surrounded by tools and stacks of lumber. Everywhere Merit looked, she saw people bustling about.

"I don't understand," she said to Buddy. "What's going on?"

"It's the Build-a-House Foundation. It's a group I belong to, and this is the third house I've helped build." He placed an arm around her waist. "We build these for people who don't have their own homes."

Merit stiffened. "Why did you bring me here?"

"Because I want you to have hope, that's why. Sure, times are tough, but there are a lot of people who care, Merit. There are a lot of people who are willing to help."

She studied Buddy's blue eyes. "You really believe that, don't you?"

"Yes, I do." He took hold of Merit's hand and led her toward a tall old tree. "A couple years ago, my dad died. Mom and I had our share of troubles. Our problems weren't financial ones, but we struggled all the same. Sometimes the grief seemed almost unbearable."

"I'm sorry," whispered Merit, squeezing Buddy's hand.

"We got through it because there were people there to help us, people who gave their time, their energy, their emotions. When people care, it makes a big difference. I brought you here today because I wanted you to realize that no matter how hard things seem right now, there are people who care. You'll get through these hard times, Merit."

He was right, Merit realized. She'd been feeling sorry for herself and being angry at the world. Worst of all, she'd given up hope. Now, Buddy was holding new hope out for her -- the hope of friendship, the hope of a bright future, maybe even the hope and promise of love. Could she believe in it? Could she accept it?

Yes! Yes! In that moment with Buddy, her life began to change. With renewed faith and courage, Merit had confidence enough to find a part-time job in town. Her mom's health and strength improved, and soon Vivian was working, too. By the end of the month, they'd saved enough to make a deposit on a small rental house.

Now, whenever Merit has a free weekend, she joins Buddy at the Build-a-House Foundation. She knows she's really been very fortunate in her life, and she's doing all she can to help others find the way when things look bleak.

And best of all, she's learning to open her heart and accept true love. Why, just the other day, Buddy stole a sweet kiss. She'll cherish that moment forever.

Being the new girl in school wasn't easy, especially with the shame Merit felt. But that's in the past now. She's glad to be living in Twinbrook, and she's glad she can make a difference in the lives of others.