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Second Time Around

Michael Bamberger was in his 40s when he decided to go back to high school. His second time around, he captured the story of teenagers in America for a new book.

In Wonderland: A Year in the Life of an American High School, Mr. Bamberger, a senior reporter for Sports Illustrated magazine, tells the story of students of Pennsbury High School, in Fairless Hills, Pa., with whom he spent the 2002-03 school year. The book was published this month by Atlantic Monthly Press.

Mr. Bamberger, who lives in Philadelphia, became interested in the school when he saw a local TV news segment featuring the traditional prom held at the 1,600-student Pennsbury school each year.

"I was very interested in that school, because they had a mass, old fashioned, in- the-gym prom," said Mr. Bamberger. "Thousand of people lined up to get into that school; [this prom] is something that holds the school together."

In Wonderland, the prom frames a school year in the life of the teenagers. There are characters such as Rob and Stephanie, who become parents at the age of 16; and a group of junior boys that idolizes the senior girl with the low- cut jeans.

Tragedy also touches the school when one of its students is killed while crossing a busy highway.

In his book, Mr. Bamberger is optimistic about the students’ futures, though.

"The conclusion of this book is that those kids are going to be all right," the writer said in an interview last week. When most people think about teenagers, he said, they focus on the 1999 Columbine High School shootings and problems of drug addiction and unwanted pregnancy. But according to his book, teenagers are just trying to find meaning in their lives.

"I am sure they are going to make it in their adult life," he said.

When Mr. Bamberger was walking around the school or hanging out with the students, they knew he was first and foremost a reporter, he said. His job was to record their lives.

"But because I was around enough, they felt a high level of comfort, mostly because I was a sympathetic listener, and they needed to talk with someone who really cares," he said.

Going back to high school 25 years after he graduated, Mr. Bamberger said, made him realize that high school experiences had not changed.

"These kids go through a search for love, friendship, sex, identity, and meaning of life," he said.

—Tal Barak

Vol. 23, Issue 40, Page 3

Published in Print: June 16, 2004, as Take Note

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