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Mercer scoops and shoots

Mercer Middle students study journalism, enlighten their teachers in return

Photo by Russ Bryant
The Mercer cluster team was (front row, from left) Mario Brown, Jamie Scheffer,
Jessica Love, Shanay Hicks, (back row, from left) teacher Carolyn Brown, Chardae Washington,
Michael Thomas, Availe Johnson, Angel Jones, Katy McKena and Alan Lazuri.

Lessons learned by all
By Margarita Venegas

(from the 12/17/99 issue)

I blushed when Jamie announced he wanted to be a veterinarian. Jamie is my protege at Mercer Middle School. He calls me "Miss Margarita" and he has exemplary interviewing skills.

The Georgia Guardian's partnership with Mercer Middle School started when we learned about the charter school's clusters program. Students in each cluster learn a skill, such as dancing, or a profession, such as journalism. We met once a week until last Thursday. After the first class I told the students to think of and write about what interested them.

"I like animals!", sixth-grader Jamie Scheffer said. Everything Jamie says is followed by at least one exclamation mark.

Together, we thought of 10 questions, discussed who to talk to and prepared for the interviews. After Jamie and I thought of two sources, he called and interviewed them by phone, quickly inventing his own shorthand as he scribbled words into his notebook.

Watching someone else gather information at such a frenetic pace is scary. In the classroom, staff writer Christina Taylor and I would often look over at each other, wondering if the students really understood what we said.

When Jamie announced that he was going to be a veterinarian, I thought I had failed. Sure, he learned more about animals during his interview, fueling his desire to work with them. But I hoped he would also fall in love with the power and knowledge one gets through journalism.

Christina was succeeding with her students. Chardae Washington and Letira Harris were eager to learn and thought of many story ideas on their own. We enjoyed watching students' smiles grow wider as they began to understand the gift of knowledge they could share with others.

Guardian senior staff photographer Russ Bryant helped a group of aspiring photographers, who talked among themselves like a hive of buzzing bees. As Russ spoke, the students focused on him in a way that would make their other teachers jealous. They learned the importance of taking pictures without disturbing a subject, how to take candid, natural shots, and how communication between photographers and writers is key to making a complete story.

Seeing my coworkers in a classroom setting, explaining what we do and how to do it, I learned to love my job all over again. I realized Russ is not only good at explaining how to take photos. He is also detail-oriented and concentrates on each assignment. I discovered that Christina has a compassionate way of showing others what needs to be done. Her student proteges wanted to do more, because she encouraged them and brought out their curiosity. Similarly, she gets the best out of interview subjects because they feel at ease with her.

I also learned that I'm not so far removed from middle school students. Like then, I have an overriding curiosity that needs to be guided. I taught them how to satisfy that curiosity through journalism. They taught me how to look beyond others' incorrect assumptions that all pre-teens are spiteful, rude, uncaring and easily bored.

It saddened me that Jamie didn't want to explore his natural curiosity through journalism, but he taught me that a carefree, questioning nature is something most people have. So maybe my work interests people who ask the same questions every day.

In our last class, Jamie came running up to me, holding out the pants leg of his new jeans.

"Look at what some dog did on my way home from school," he said, running a finger through the frayed edges of a hole.

"That dog probably shouldn't be out running around," I replied, worried about this not-quite-5-foot student getting attacked by a vicious dog." I wonder who owns it and why they don't keep it locked up."

"I don't know, but I can probably find out," Jamie said. There was no fear in his eyes concerning the dog, just a gleam of curiosity that demanded and would certainly get an answer. The kind of curiosity that may make him a very good veterinarian.

Student Photographs

Photo by Jessica Love
Jessica Love, a student in the cluster, studied photography and
submitted this photo describing elation as her final project.


Photo by Katie McKena
Katie McKena took shots of Mercer Middle School students without posing
them, as Guardian senior staff photographer Russ Bryant instructed.


Student Writings

Enrichment clusters enjoyed at Mercer
By Chardae Washington


Monzella Waples walks out of her cluster happy and full of excitement.

The "Bus Stop" and the "Cha Cha Cha" are the dances she enjoys most. She gets excited when it is time to go to her cluster every Thursday from 12:45-2:15 p.m.

"I enjoy my cluster and I hope I never leave it," Waples said.

Eric Johnson enjoys his aviation cluster as much as Waples enjoys her dance cluster.

"I like my cluster because I get to fly the airplane on the computer," Johnson said.

Teachers at Mercer also think the clusters are a great idea. The teachers get a chance to learn and work in an area that interest them.

"Enrichment clusters are a change of pace and allow students to work in an area of interest," Mrs. Meyers, an eighth grade math teacher, said.

The program was designed by Dr. Joseph Renzulli. Renzulli visited Mercer to explain his research, which led to the school -wide enrichment model. This program is designed to promote higher level learning for every student, he said.

"If students are interested in what they are learning, they will become productive and more self confident. This will also give students a chance to have fun and learn at the same time," Kathie Burke, enrichment cluster coordinator, said.

More than 200 people from the community were involved in Mercer Middle School's decision to become a charter school. The faculty at Mercer agreed to the concept and gave it their support. Business partners and mentors also support the decision by giving their time for the students at Mercer.

Columbia Zoo is A-OK
By Jamie Scheffer

Tigers, giraffes, black rhinos, sea lions, toucans, anacondas - and more.

Guess what kind of place that is. It's a zoo! Columbia Zoo it's called and there's about 130 kinds of animals.

That's a lot of animals to feed. What do they eat?

Zoo keeper John Davis said, "Whatever the animals eat in the wild, that's what they eat at the zoo."

The animal's habitats are perfect for them, he said, and only a few of them get sick. They do have medicine to help them, though. Some animals are very hard to take care of, he said.

The animals usually get excited when there's a lot activity going around in the zoo, and there can be because 850,000 people a year visit this zoo! People's favorite animals are elephants, tigers, polar bears and giraffes, Davis said.

In Columbia Zoo it seems as though everything is A-OK .

School safety means a lot
By Availe Johnson

Bomb threat drills, gun checks, metal detectors and communication classes are ways to maintain safety in schools, said Demetris Goldwire, a student at Mercer Middle School.

"I think we should have bomb threat drills, gun safety classes and metal detector searches because it would make the school safer," Goldwire said. "Communication classes are important because they teach students how to inform the proper authorities in life threatening or harmful situations."

Mercer Middle School principal Penny Maestretti thinks the solution lies with students.

"I think if all children will follow the dress code, tuck in their shirts and resolve problems without violence, it will make the school safer," Maestretti said.

One person who plays an important part in keeping the school safe is Mercer resource officer Delvin Guilford.

"At Mercer Middle School it is my responsibility to secure the school campus," he said. "I think adhering to the rules, using good judgment and treating others with respect will make the school safer. I also think in order for students to receive a good education they should be in a safe environment."

Students give opinions on dress code policy
By Letira Harris

The school dress code policy - is it fair? Do your children agree with it? Is it right for students to wear ID badges? Is the school safe enough for them?

In talking with students that attend Mercer, they honestly admitted how they felt about it. Boy, did Eric Johnson, Shanay Hicks and Tamara Hughes have something to say!


Q: Do you like wearing your shirts inside of your pants?

Eric: No, I do not like to wear my shirt inside of my pants.

Tamara: To me, shirts do not look good inside pants.

Shanay: Sometimes no because I am not used to having to tuck in my shirt.


Q: Do you think the dress code policy is fair?

Eric: No! I do not think the dress code policy is fair because some outfits are not supposed to be tucked in.

Tamara: To some kids it's fair, but some kids do not feel they should have to tuck in their shirts.

Shanay: No, because kids should be able to wear their shirts out or in if they want to.


Q: Do you think wearing ID badges is fair?

Eric: I think the ID badges are fair, but sometimes we do not remember to bring them and we get detention. (First offense is a warning, second is detention and third is in-house suspension. Students who forget their ID badges have the option of buying a temporary one for $1)

Tamara: I think it's a good idea.

Shanay: That is a good thing because you can tell who is supposed to be on the school campus and who is not.


Q: Do you think Mercer Middle School is safe?

Eric: Yes, I think it is a safe school and others can come and learn with us. Also, I think Mercer is safe because we have officers and our doors are always locked.

Tamara: Yes, because of the officers and the teachers.

Shanay: Yes, because we have not had anything bad happen - but, you never know what might happen.


The policy may change and the students might change, but their feelings on the school dress code policy will stay with these students forever.



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