An Easy Choice
Two middle school students awarded scholarships
Bill Cannon, a former prison guard in Peoria, Ill., thundered away at Basehor-Linwood Middle School students last Friday, preaching the importance of positive choices.
Most students snapped to attention listening to Cannon -- most that is except for eighth-grader Josh Jones. Josh and another boy were speaking while Cannon, director of the CHOICES program gave his presentation.
With his intimidating presence and booming voice, Cannon called Josh and the other boy to the floor, where the two stood near the ex-penal employee until he told them to sit down.
It wasn't the only time Josh would be called to the carpet. Later in the presentation, he and BLMS eighth-grader Bobbi Stripling received CHOICES scholarships for exhibiting the most scholastic improvement during the school year.
"I think (Cannon) was kind of shocked," said Josh, admitting fault for speaking during the presentation.
"I really wasn't paying attention at the time and I was talking while he was talking," he added.
By contrast, Bobbi, a first-year student in the school district, was emotional when awarded her scholarship. Tears welled in her eyes and she hugged Cannon at the end of the presentation.
"I had no idea it was going to be me," Bobbi said later. "I stood there in shock for a couple of seconds."
The social contrast shown by the two students Friday symbolized their academic course throughout the school year.
For Josh, the misbehavior was a revert to old ways; although teachers praise the strides he's made during the year, the 15-year-old said he's still a work in progress.
For Bobbi, the emotional overflow represented the conclusion of a tumultuous yet rewarding first year in the school.
In August, the two will travel to an awards ceremony in Peoria where they will receive a $350 shopping spree and a computer as part of the scholarships.
They will also receive funds to pay for tutors, should they ever need one.
Middle school teachers voted the two students as worthy recipients for their academic and social progression throughout the year.
Bobbi, a transfer student from Arrowhead Middle School in Kansas City, said she didn't do well at school beginning the year and had trouble acclimating to her new surroundings.
"I usually got A's," she said. "But I was new and I really didn't have a lot of friends yet."
The 14-year-old said she leaned on the teacher in her favorite subject, Algebra teacher Janet Shumway, for support.
"I talked to her pretty much about a lot of things and she really helped me," Bobbi said.
As the year wore on, Bobbi became more comfortable both in-class and outside it.
Now, she says, "I make mostly A's again."
Josh hasn't had the same overcoming-obstacles success story Stripling has experienced, but nonetheless has shown dramatic improvement.
His grades are still shaky and occasionally, as witnessed on Friday, he acts out.
Despite this, teachers have been impressed with work the student they describe as " very bright and personable," has completed in the accelerated reading program.
Students earn points by reading books in the accelerated reading class. Out of all eighth graders, Josh has the eighth most points.
His work in the class was the primary factor in teachers choosing Josh for the scholarship, BLMS principal Mike Boyd said.
The CHOICES program began three to four years ago in states such as Illinois and Indiana. This year, the program fanned its wings to Kansas and visited schools such as Tonganoxie, Piper and Basehor-Linwood.
The program is geared more toward steering students around potential problems than scaring them straight.
Boyd said the $300 price tag for the program is well worth the expense.
"They talk about what they see is a right choice and a wrong choice," Boyd said. "They try to get through that everybody is only one bad choice away.
"I think it opened a bunch of eyes," he added. "Will it (affect) everybody? No. But for four or five it's well worth it."
There's a plaque hanging from a wall at the middle school, which bears its mission statement. It reads "developing academic potential, positive self-concept, individual responsibility and teamwork."
On Friday, two students were rewarded for choosing to live up to that statement.