News in Brief

May 01, 1999 6 min read

Pi In The Sky

Jake Enget’s love of math and his prodigious memory have turned him into a celebrity at Fargo South High School in North Dakota. The high school junior only wanted a shot at winning a $90 graphing calculator when he entered a contest to see who could recite the most digits of pi--the irrational, infinite, and nonrepetitive number that most people round up to 3.14. He got the calculator, but his winning feat--1,001 digits of pi--made him a TV star, as well. He recently landed on the Today Show , and he’s had calls from the Tonight Show With Jay Leno and a network TV sitcom. Enget’s stunt took him roughly 10 hours of memorization--and 10 minutes of recitation. “I never imagined this,” says the teenager, who committed the numbers to memory by putting them to a rhythm and grouping them in seven-number sequences. He has “lost” some numbers but says “the first couple of hundred will always stay with me.”

Leaded Down

Let this be a lesson to all science competition applicants: If you have your eyes on first prize, don’t design a project that exposes environmental hazards in your school district. Such an effort, however, did win 12-year-old Melissa Berry second place in a science fair. The 6th grader from Pioneer Park Elementary School in Cheyenne, Wyoming, discovered lead contamination in the drinking water at her school and three others in the Laramie County district. Four of her samples from 10 schools exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s limit of 15 parts of lead per billion parts of water-including a drinking fountain in her own classroom that had a whopping 44.3 parts per billion of lead. Melissa’s project prompted school and city officials to conduct their own tests, which found that two of the five water fountains at Pioneer Park needed to be replaced. Lead levels were found to be acceptable at the other schools. The science contest’s first-prize winner? A project on the use of waste products.

To Wit

When the Pulitzer Prize selections were announced last month, most winners popped champagne corks to celebrate. But kindergarten teacher Margaret Edson, who won the drama award for her play Wit , prepared something more appropriate for the 5-year-olds she teaches at Centennial Place Elementary School in Atlanta: cake and ice cream. Wit , Edson’s first play, is about a literature professor’s battle with ovarian cancer. It opened at the MCC Theatre in Manhattan last September after several years in off-Broadway venues. Written in 1991, it was inspired by her work as a clerk in an AIDS-oncology unit at a research hospital. Edson, 37, has been an elementary school teacher for seven years.

Food For Thought

Students in Maryland and Virginia are stepping up to the plate when it comes to recommending school lunch menus. Districts in those states are conducting taste-test panels for students to get a fix on what to serve in the cafeteria. School officials say the panels have been quite a success, with kids sampling recipes including peach frozen yogurt and country beef steak. And the panels have allowed the districts to keep tabs on items needed to create balanced lunches that kids will actually eat. More practically, the panels save time, effort, and money, as Serena Suthers, director of food services in Virginia’s Prince William County, points out: “We don’t want to put something on the menu for 47,000 customers and find out they hate it.”

Please Pass The...

While they’re at it, administrators in Maryland and Virginia may want to teach their kids some table manners, as teachers are doing for 50 kids in the culinary-arts program at the 616-student Metro Tech High School in Phoenix. The students in the program are required to take a course in food etiquette. The class is designed to prepare students for job interviews or other functions where food might be served. It provides advice on the impropriety of blowing on hot soup in a spoon to cool it off, salting food before tasting it, and other social no-no’s. The course has been so popular over the last four years that eight other schools in the Phoenix Union High School District have been enrolling their students. “Good manners even out the playing field,” says Jim Cummings, a spokes man for the 21,000-student district.

Jean Blues

Sent to the principal’s office for wearing bluejeans to school, Teshana Byars refused to go. So administrators at North End Middle School in Waterbury, Connecticut, called the police to have her arrested. The 7th grader, administrators contended, was in violation of the school system’s dress code, which prohibits jeans, and they wanted her charged with criminal trespass. Now it looks as though district officials will be the ones on trial. A juvenile court judge recently ruled that the 15,200-student district will have to prove in court that it was justified in arresting the 12-year-old.

Top Teacher

When kindergarten teacher Andy Baumgartner was nominated to be 1999 Teacher of the Year, he seemed to have little chance of winning. After all, in the nearly 50-year history of the award program, only one kindergarten teacher-Wisconsin’s Helen Adams-has been chosen. But last month, Baumgartner beat the odds and was named top teacher by the Washington, D.C.-based Council of Chief State School Officers and Scholastic Inc. of New York. He was honored at a White House ceremony. Baumgartner, 47, was chosen for attention to his young students, his enthusiasm for their uniqueness and creativity, and his connection with their families,” according to the award’s sponsors. The former Marine and speech therapist has taught at the 530-student A. Brian Merry Elementary School in Augusta, Georgia, since 1995. As the nation’s top educator, he is scheduled to travel as an education spokesman for a year.

Computer Bug

A high school student in Fullerton, California, was disciplined for sending a crib sheet, via e-mail, to a dozen students at the 2,100-student Sunny Hills High School. Administrators discovered the electronic summary of the questions and answers for an honors-level history final after some students tipped them off, says principal Loring Davies. Citing confidentiality reasons, Davies refuses to say how many students used the crib sheet, how many were punished, or what punishments they received. The test, generally taken by 10th graders, is given in shifts over several days. Davies says that a student went home after taking the exam and sent the e-mail message to other students. With the cooperation of parents, administrators used e-mail records to find those involved.


Do planets orbit the earth, the moon, the galaxy, or the sun? What’s the sequence of the metamorphosis of a butterfly? Do you want fries with that? Oops, that last question is not part of a pop quiz based on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, an exam given to 4th, 8th, and 10th graders in that state. But you could take the test at two McDonald’s restaurants in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Questions drawn from the science portions of the 1998 test are being printed--in English and Spanish--on 9,000 placemats to be distributed at the McDonalds in the overwhelmingly poor and largely Hispanic district. Manny Gonzalez, who owns both franchises and is underwriting the effort, came up with the idea after learning that the district’s test scores were among the state’s lowest, particularly in science. He hopes the placemat quiz--which includes three questions (one for each of the grades tested)--will send a message about the importance of preparing for tests. “Kids will read the questions and talk about the answers-you know, quiz each other,” he says. “I think it will make them more prepared.” Gonzalez, a father of three from Puerto Rico, worked his way up the McDonald’s ladder from the deep-fryer to the owner’s office.

Hair-Raising Policy

A middle school boy in Texas will be homeschooled rather than follow his district’s no-facial-hair policy. The parents of Stanley Diaz Jr., a 7th grader at James Brooks Middle School in Midland, want him to wait at least three years before he starts shaving. The custom is in keeping with the family’s Hispanic culture, the parents say. But school officials are sticking to the Greenwood district’s policy forbidding facial hair. The principal ordered the 12-year-old to shave or face suspension.