Shilling for the Feds, Wrestling With a Disability, and Life After the Tsunami

By Rich Shea — January 14, 2005 3 min read

Less than a week after radio and TV pundit Armstrong Williams admitted to being paid $240,000 by the U.S. government to promote NCLB to African Americans, the president proved that, when necessary, he’s quite capable of shilling himself. On January 12, Bush visited a Virginia high school to pitch an NCLB expansion that would establish rigorous math and reading tests at the high school level. Leaving aside the funding issue, some students worried about the extra academic burden. And one questioned the legitimacy of the president’s aims. “In government [class], we’re kind of learning how national levels of government really shouldn’t interfere with local and state levels,” sophomore Electra Bolotas said. “And then he kept saying that, oh, the national level is not going to interfere with the local and state. But this is, like, kind of a national proposal.”

Most would agree that a standardized test would say very little about the initiative displayed by Trevon Jenifer, a 16-year-old high school wrestler who doesn’t have legs. As the result of a condition called congenital amputation, he was born with a body that ends at the hip sockets. But the junior, who runs laps with his hands, wants only to be treated like any two-legged person, an attitude that’s won him many admirers at Huntingtown High School in Maryland. It has also helped Trevon, who’s competed in wheelchair track and basketball in the past, earn a respectable 8-7 record during his first year of wrestling. One referee admits it was hard to keep his composure when he officiated a recent match. “This kid is utterly amazing,” the ref says. “I was just awe-struck.”

Anyone following recent events in Southeast Asia has to be in awe of the children, especially, as they soldier on despite suffering unimaginable losses. To aid them in this task, schools in the tsunami-ravaged region reopened this past week. Chris Watkins, a child-protection officer for Unicef, said that it’s critical at this stage to bring students together, adding, “That helps recovery—kids playing.” Students at a school in Sri Lanka, however, spent more time sharing their survival tales with each other. Though some had a rough time recounting the loss of homes and family members, others expressed the need to move on. “Our future, we want to think about our future,” one 15-year-old said. “We want to forget the troubles.”

Keeping teens out of trouble is the aim of the “scared straight” truancy program in Orange County, California. After three years, it’s evidently working. Here’s what happens: If a kid who’s been ditching class doesn’t respond to school warnings, the kid and his or her parents end up in court, facing Robert Hutson, a tough-love judge who threatens them with juvenile lockup. The kids then report to Hutson on a monthly basis, and if, after six months, they’re back in school, they’re released from the program. Hutson makes sure that whatever’s necessary—extra academic help, parenting classes for Mom and Dad, or drug rehab—is implemented. As a result, most of the two dozen students he sees each month improve their behavior. Recently, in court, he received a note from one teen’s teacher, saying the boy once headed for jail is now a model student. Hutson’s verdict? “Case dismissed, and I’m out of your life.”

The producers of the Fox TV reality show The Simple Life suffered harsh judgment when school officials in New Jersey vetoed a visit from Paris Hilton and her sidekick, Nicole Richie. In the middle of filming the show’s upcoming season, which features the young socialites taking on various internships, the producers wanted Hilton and Richie to spend one day in a Buena Vista Township middle school as substitute teachers and cafeteria monitors. But permission forms were met by a parental uproar, with one woman saying, “I just feel that it’s ludicrous ... [to] invite Paris Hilton to teach 11-, 12-, and 13-year-olds.”

Working with full-grown men, however, is a different story. It seems that, after being rejected in Buena Vista, the show’s producers found a fire station in nearby Atlantic City as a replacement. Asked about the impending Hilton-Richie visit, one captain said, “Some guys are excited about it.”

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