Pupils to publish about crime, drugs

February 07, 1994|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Sun Staff Writer

A dozen eighth-graders at Westminster East Middle School want to make the whole school aware that "hairy stuff" is growing beneath Westminster's calm facade.

Hairy stuff such as violence from guns and drugs.

Talking about it in class wasn't enough, they decided, although they did a lot of that.

The Hairy Stuff newsletter debuts this week, produced on the cheap: the children wrote the articles on home and school computers and typewriters, and PTA volunteer Anita Brewer ran it off on the school copying machine.

The first issue is 15 pages of short fiction, mostly on the theme of violence; a homeless man is shot to death in one story.

The next issue, probably to come out next month, will have about 10 pages of editorials on violence, drugs, gangs, animal research and other topics.

Future issues, probably once a month, could deal with other topics, but violence was the issue that inspired the students to start a newsletter at all, said English teacher Paula Davidson, who advises the student writers.

Lack of money didn't stop the students, who passionately invested their after-school time every Tuesday for two months (except for winter break and snow days).

The meetings were filled with the same kind of passionate discussion that started in class in October.

James Joyce, 13, son of Charlotte Brown of Westminster, sparked the interest with one of his journal entries in Mrs. Davidson's English class.

"I had a note down that a black man in today's society is an endangered species," said James, referring to the high homicide rate for black males, especially in cities such as Baltimore. James also is black.

"Mrs. Davidson used it as a class assignment, and it sparked conversation," James said.

The teens do not feel insulated by Carroll County's suburban sprawl. Violence has touched them and their classmates.

"I was walking down the street one time and I got shot in the back by a BB gun," said Shannon Strauss, 13, daughter of Ralph Strauss and Bonnie Monken of Westminster.

"There are robberies in my neighborhood," said Jamie Mowbray, 13, daughter of Susan and Jim Mowbray of Margaret Avenue in Westminster. "There's a purse snatcher in our neighborhood," she said.

"My mom's car was stolen from the St. John [Church] parking lot," said Jessica Taylor, 13, daughter of Allen and Gayle Taylor of Westminster.

Even school isn't a haven, they said.

"Everyone thinks school is a place to be safe, but it's not true," said Stacie Hossler, 13, daughter of Barbara and Russell Hossler of Westminster.

"I know kids who carry knives to school daily," James said. "You can see them dealing drugs right in class."

Statistics on weapons in Carroll County schools show 59 suspensions last year, but that category also includes firecrackers and other "explosive devices," said Richard J. Simmons, pupil-personnel worker and a member of an ad-hoc committee studying discipline in schools.

A more telling number, he said, might be that six of those 59 suspensions were for weapons serious enough to warrant an extended suspension.

Drug suspensions numbered 33, but probably half of those are for students carrying prescription or over-the-counter medications ranging from birth-control pills to aspirin, he said.

Still, Mr. Simmons agrees with the students that Carroll County and its schools are not immune to violence, and he's glad they're spreading the word. "I think the kids are right," he said. "I think the population has changed significantly. What we [the discipline committee] are hearing constantly is the major problem is that kids are coming to us with a deteriorated sense of respect, so they're coming with an active disrespect."

Even one issue of Hairy Stuff could make students aware of the problem and urge them to do something about it, Mr. Simmons said.

"If peers are raising the issue, it's going to be more attended to than if adults are," he said. "Kids will read what kids have to say, and maybe they'll change. They have some ownership of the issue.

"I think that's exciting."

Other eighth-graders involved in the newsletter are Gene Mann, Jayna Shank, Becky Karman, Jeena Mulligan, Stephanie Brinkman, Shannon Langmead and Emily Beninghove.

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