Students embody meaning of season


December 23, 2007

Given what happens daily around here - and just about everywhere else these days - it comes as no surprise to discover, after a search of The Sun's computerized news morgue, that the last time this columnist mentioned Randallstown High School it was in commentary about a shooting on the vast parking lot there.

Some young fool with a 9 mm semiautomatic Glock drove up to the school and handed the pistol to another young fool, who got into a brawl and opened fire on a crowd of students. That was on a lovely Friday afternoon in early May 2004, right after a charity basketball game that had finished the school day.

Bullets hit four young people, leaving one of them, William "Tippa" Thomas III, paralyzed from the waist down, another tragedy wrought by fools empowered by guns.

The shooting had something to do with one young man disrespecting another. For a couple of long, violent decades now, young American men have been settling their differences this way, and I'm not telling you anything you don't know. We're infested with violent thinking and behavior, and its frequent manifestations leave us numb and resigned.

I haven't been back to Randallstown High School since then, though the 2004 shooting was in the news two weeks ago: Police arrested a long-missing witness and prosecutors refiled charges against a 24-year-old man accused of bringing the gun to the school.

But that's not why I bring all this up again.

It's because Randallstown High School, and the students there, deserve better by me.

Two days after the shooting, I implored all the good kids out there - and the teachers and parents - to keep performing acts of hope. (The charity basketball game marred by the shooting constituted an act of hope; money was raised for scholarships for Randallstown kids, and anything anyone does in the name of improving the lives of children is an act of hope in my book.)

If acts of hope outnumber acts of violence, some day we might know a more peaceful, healthier nation.

And we all want to live in a community where, as the clock ticks toward the end of the year, we count good instead of bad, hope instead of homicides.

So here we go. Here's something you should know about Randallstown High School, from teacher Amy Thonnings:

"A few weeks ago, the students in my 9th grade English class read a story in their textbook about kids making a difference. The selection was about a group of students in LA who raised money and created backpacks filled with school supplies for homeless children.

"My class reacted to this story by wanting to make a difference here in Baltimore. I suggested that we do the same thing, help out the homeless. The next time we worked on our ideas, they came up with a name, the Helping Hands, and since then, it has been a whirlwind of activity.

"Our goal was to get each student and staff member to donate one dollar. With each dollar, the donor would be able to write their name on the cutout of a hand, which would be placed on a bulletin board outside the cafeteria. With the money, we could purchase items for the homeless.

"To get the word out, the Helping Hands group put together fliers, laminated them, cut them out and hung them up around school. They worked on a large poster promoting our cause and recorded information for RAMS-TV morning announcements. For the past three weeks, the students and I have been in the hallways, in the lunchrooms and before and after school, asking each and everyone for one dollar.

"The response was amazing. We have had students giving us $5, $10, and $20 at one time. One student even donated $120! The teachers, too, have been extremely generous with their time and money. From the cafeteria workers, the custodial staff, the administrators, the teachers to the students, we have collected more than $1,000!

"We dropped off the donations this past Thursday. We delivered 100 backpacks full of gloves, hats, socks, ChapStick and water bottles to the Health Care for the Homeless. To Our Daily Bread, we delivered medical supplies, coffee, sugar along with hats and gloves.

"As their teacher, I am extremely pleased and proud of these young men and women in the Helping Hands group. Their dedication is impressive. The result of this campaign has paid off in the classroom as well. I feel that they have grown during this time: they work well as a class and as individuals, they treat each other with more friendliness than what I saw at the beginning of the year, and they seem to be more confident, self-assured students.

"But it has been the whole school effort that has really affected me as a teacher and a person. To walk into our school and see more than 1,000 hands along the wall is amazing. To look at each of these hands and names and realize how much we can help others is astounding.

"Our students and faculty have triumphed in this success of Helping Hands; gaining rewards in school spirit and strength. And because of this, we will make a difference in our community.

"While our school receives negative press at times, I believe this story should be shared."

I agree, Ms. Thonnings, as you can see. Thanks for the story. It's a gift, really, and just in time.

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