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Evolutionary Idea

Alabama Gov. Fob James Jr. announced recently that he had spent $2,967 in state money on 900 copies of the book Darwin on Trial and sent one to every public school science teacher in the state. The book, which questions evolution theory, was given to teachers as a "resource tool," a spokeswoman for the governor explained. But some see the gesture as part of a push to stifle the teaching of evolution in schools. Last fall, the state school board voted to include a message in new biology textbooks stating that evolution is a theory, not a fact. "If the intention is to stimulate dialogue on what science is, I approve," said Ron Dobson, president of the Alabama Science Teachers Association, of the governor's gift. "But I think the intention is to attack evolution as a valid idea."

That's The Ticket

Two 6th graders at a Detroit middle school have learned a valuable lesson: If you ask for something, you may just get it. Assigned to write a business letter with an "outrageous request," Kelly Billings and Shaun Boening wrote to the vice president of the Detroit Pistons basketball team, asking for free tickets for their classmates. In the letter, they explained that the school's 6th graders have been divided into two groups and that their group is made up of 136 students and teachers. "Kids have been making fun of us behind our backs, saying that getting a ticket for every kid in our group is not possible," they wrote. "Is this something the Pistons organization can do?" Within a week, the students received 150 tickets. The letter-writing exercise started when Patrick Koneval, a teacher at Smith Middle School in Troy, asked his students to practice their correspondence skills by sending an introductory letter to someone they admired. When 60 percent of the students received some type of response, Koneval took the exercise a bit further. The message here, Koneval says, is that "anything is possible in life as long as you put your mind to it and try."

Free Prep Site

Stanford Testing Systems Inc., a Spokane, Wash.-based company, has introduced WebWare for the SAT, a Web site that claims to be the first and only free Internet-based preparation service for the Scholastic Assessment Test. The service contains more than 700 practice questions and a skills-analysis profile for students. According to Stanford president Pardner Wynn, the company sells enough of its software to afford to put the service on the Internet for free. Besides, he says, the Web site provides "an exceptional amount of feedback from students and educators." The service can be found at http://www.testprep.com.

Digging For Dollars

At a time when many school budgets don't even cover the basics, Beverly McCormick, principal of Pershing Intermediate School 220 in New York City, has learned to be creative. She long ago realized that for her school to achieve its goals, she would have to find ways to come up with extra money. She and her staff have succeeded to a degree few educators can match. Over the last couple of years, they have snared more than $200,000. Just about everyone in the building knows to keep an eye open for even the smallest grants. "We read the newspapers, surf the Internet, and ask everyone," McCormick says. The funds have provided professional development, a health and wellness program for students, and curricular materials. Most recently, the school won a $55,000 gift from a California computer-chip company. In a nationwide search, MIPS Technologies asked educators to describe their schools' need in 60 words or less. Many schools made a strong case, McCormick says, but "our need was so basic--bookcases, chairs, desks."

Ritalin Warning

The company that produces Ritalin, a drug commonly prescribed to treat attention deficit disorder in children, has launched a national education campaign to combat abuse of the medication. Recent news reports have highlighted the use of Ritalin, a brand name for the stimulant methylphenidate, by children for whom the drug has not been prescribed. Ciba Pharmaceuticals, a division of the Tarrytown, N.Y.-based Ciba-Geigy Corp., is warning parents to read about ADD and Ritalin and alert their children to the possible symptoms of Ritalin abuse, such as anxiety, lack of appetite, and breathing difficulties.

A Net Profit

When English teacher Tim Lutz signed up for a course on using the Internet at Minnesota's Moorhead State University last fall, he had no idea how big a return he would receive on his investment. What Lutz initially saw as a tool for teaching and professional development has helped replace the fire-damaged library at the 230-student high school in Twin Valley, Minn., where he teaches. After the fire in December, Lutz cranked out a couple of postings on the Internet. One message pleaded for books to help replace the 9,000 volumes the school lost in the blaze; another asked that the request be passed on to others. The postings set off a chain reaction of charity that has Norman County East High School looking at the possibility of a 15,000-volume library. One person alone, an Indiana woman whose attempt to start a bookstore fell flat, offered $4,000 worth of books, and a Minnesota family donated about 20 boxes full.

Drug Testing

State police are helping parents in an Oregon county spot teen drug and alcohol abuse by letting them bring in their children's urine for confidential testing. Since launching the pilot initiative in Coos County a year ago, the police lab has tested roughly 200 samples. Forty-three percent have come up positive for drugs or alcohol, nine out of 10 testing positive for marijuana. The program is believed to be the only one of its kind in the country. State police are considering expanding it to at least four other counties.

Going Too Far

Officials in the Hillsborough, N.J., school district say they will never again invite the AIDS activist who gave an explicit safe-sex talk at a high school there in March. During her presentation at Hillsborough High, River Huston, a poet and safe-sex educator who is HIV-positive, reportedly slid a condom over a purple sex toy with her mouth and led students in a chant of a sexual expletive. Huston had participated for years without incident at the school's annual "diversity day," when students attend seminars on topics of their choice. District superintendent Robert Gulick said this year's presentation "went over the edge." "I abhor what this so-called educator presented to our students," he said. For her part, Huston said her presentation was no more explicit than in the past. "I was giving really important and useful information," she said.

Clean-Air Fund

What can $20,500 buy? More than 1,800 reams of photocopier paper, 6,833 pints of Ben and Jerry's ice cream, a new car. How about 290 tons of sulfur dioxide? That's what students at Glens Falls (N.Y.) Middle School have purchased with money they raised. In March, the students bought so-called pollution allowances at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's annual auction at the Chicago Board of Trade. Each credit allows the purchaser to emit a ton of sulfur dioxide, a colorless, suffocating gas. The students retired the allowances they bought, thereby reducing the amount of sulfur dioxide that is released into the air. The EPA will auction about 22,000 credits this year. The school in upstate New York raised about $13,640 from a community auction, more than $4,000 from a letter-writing campaign, and $2,860 through 25-cent "gum allowances" and 50-cent bubble-blowing permits. Leading the charge was 6th grade teacher Rod Johnson. "We study the problem, and buying the pollution allowances gives us a solution," he said.

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