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Shots in the Dark, Roqueros Roll, and Entrepreneurial Spirit

Teacher Magazine’s take on education news from around the Web, March 18-24.

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As the FBI continues its investigation into the Red Lake High School shootings in Minnesota, details about Jeff Weise’s troubled life have begun to emerge. His father killed himself in 1997, and his mother suffered brain damage in a car accident two years later. Jeff had been treated for depression in a psychiatric ward and was taking Prozac. The 16-year-old struggled in school, was antisocial, and drew detailed pictures of bloody gun battles. He admired Hitler and wore a trench coat.

Some of these details may sound familiar (think Columbine), but the statements Weise allegedly posted on Internet sites hint at his private pain. An administrator of one Web forum says Jeff claimed that, before the car accident, his mother “would hit me with anything she could get her hands on” and “would tell me I was a mistake.” In a Yahoo profile, Jeff wrote that he was seeing a therapist and had “a brand new pair of cuts on my wrists.” On another Web site, he posted an animated film featuring a man who shoots people with a rifle. Jeff had been removed from school recently to study with a tutor at home, but it’s not yet clear how much school officials knew about his life. And Katherine Newman, author of Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings, says that “it is exceedingly difficult to see these kids coming, to put it together and see the pattern.”

At times like these, it’s also difficult to focus on the positive. But an after-school program in East L.A. is keeping kids off the streets by turning them into rock ’n’ rollers—or roqueros, as they’re known in Latino circles. At the Ramona Hall community center, guitar teacher Raul Martinez teaches kids the basics and then groups together aspiring guitarists and drummers, who rehearse at the center and invent names like the Black Powder Biscuits, Foreign Policy, and the Sirens. With his beginners, who are 9 or 10 years old, Martinez covers everything from classical to country. “But once they get older,” he says, “they start playing what they like—mostly punk and rock.” He insists, however, that they practice hard and earn good grades in school. The dedication has paid off, with the Sirens (an all-girl band), in particular, booking gigs at L.A. music venues months in advance.

Another group that’s finding the means to express itself is gay students. In the St. Louis area, 18 schools now have gay-straight alliances, compared with just a handful four years ago. There are 35 total in the state and 115 in adjacent Illinois, according to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. The growth is attributed to students feeling more comfortable speaking about gay-related issues, although harassment is still a problem. GLSEN, which surveyed more than 2,000 students in October, reports that 5 percent of the nation’s high schoolers are gay, and adults sponsoring the alliances feel strongly about supporting them. “I was sponsor of the school’s Bible club last year,” says one librarian. “I just want a place for students to feel comfortable.”

Some may feel uncomfortable with the actions of Stu Hemesath, a La Porte City, Iowa, high schooler who recently auctioned himself off as a prom date on eBay. For $29.95, he’ll now accompany Rachel Kay of Cedar Falls, Iowa, to her prom. Stu says that he was “thinking about proms and stuff” when the eBay idea popped into his head. So the 150-pound wrestler posted photos and a description of himself, then let the bids roll in. “I have a lot of girls telling me I’m pretty hot,” he says, although he acknowledges that some people criticize what he’s done. As for Rachel, she was hoping to make an ex-boyfriend jealous with her bid. “I didn’t think I’d actually win,” she says. But she’s emailed Stu her phone number so that they can get acquainted before the prom.

Entrepreneurship of a different kind is taking place in Encinitas, California, where 17-year-old Charlie Laubach, a student at the private Grauer School, is trying to get a patent. Aided by teacher Don Kish, Charlie is developing a multicolor bar code that would store large amounts of data rather than just a single number. He began thinking about the project in 6th grade, about the time he enrolled at Grauer, which specializes in individualized instruction. Kish, who has worked for Bell Labs and has a few patents himself, serves as friend and mentor to Charlie, who, he says, could have graduated last year but stayed on one more year to finish the product.

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