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The heroes of Pleasant Grove

Heroes - and how to be one - is the elementary school's theme this year, from featuring heroes on the school's morning news show to filling out hero postcards.

By PAULETTE LASH RITCHIE

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 12, 2002


Heroes -- and how to be one -- is the elementary school's theme this year, from featuring heroes on the school's morning news show to filling out hero postcards.

INVERNESS -- Logan Gray appeared to be a perfectly healthy, regular kid when he finished the fourth grade in May at Pleasant Grove Elementary School. Summer vacation started and he traveled to South Florida for a visit with his dad.

While there, on May 28, Logan suffered an unexplained stroke, followed by a second one on June 24. "He had a stroke just out of nowhere," said his mother, Wendy Tomlinson.

The strokes left him in a leg brace and wearing a protective helmet to prevent injury should he fall. Then school started. "Kids at school just kind of looked at him," his mother said. "Some picked on him."

Things improved, though, after Logan became part of the school's new program, which showcases a different hero each Wednesday on the Morning Show. Logan was the first guest.

"What we're trying to do is first recognize that our students can be heroes," said principal Patrick Simon. "They don't have to be famous. They need courage to be different, make the right choices."

Featuring Logan helped the students understand what happened to Logan and why he wears a helmet and brace. He was shown to be a school hero, someone who came to school in spite of looking different. It took courage.

After the show, Simon walked with Logan to some of the classrooms, and students were able to ask frank questions. His helmet and brace were explained and they became much less of a mystery or source of ridicule.

"Once he was on the Morning Show," Tomlinson said, "it helped a great deal actually. He's more comfortable wearing it (his helmet) now."

The following week the show's hero was Mike Bowley, an exceptional student education teacher who has cerebral palsy and, like Logan, looks different. "It's so neat to see kids think about them in a different way," Simon said, referring to Logan and Bowley.

The hero featured on Sept. 11 was a firefighter who has ties to a staff member at the school. His type of heroism is putting himself in danger saving others.

The hero program is tied in with the school's Weekly Words of Wisdom. Every Monday on the Morning Show, PG La Pooch, a puppet played by Title I reading teacher Brenda Spilios, and Tang, the orangutan (technology teacher Mike Breder) present the weekly word.

Each Tuesday, Tang and guidance counselor DeAnna Davis discuss the word and its meaning. On Wednesday the hero of the week is introduced and interviewed and the teachers then work the weekly word into lessons for the children.

"Instead of just words," Simon said, "we try to apply this to real heroes." When the heroes go into the classrooms, Simon said, it "gives the children a wonderful sense of honor."

Pleasant Grove wants to keep the hero and citizenship theme going throughout the year. The Wednesday show reiterates responsibility, giving of self, putting others first, sacrifice, unselfishness and doing new things.

The heroism theme was expanded this historic week with a project to help each student development his or her own potential to become a hero. Each child was provided with a postcard.

The front of the postcard is a reduced posterwith a 9/11 theme, designed and donated by Simon's younger brother, Raymond, who lives in Ohio and owns a graphic design company. Each card says PGE Hero.

The back of the card says, "As a hero, I commit to:" and the rest is blank. The students were asked to think of two ways (for the two towers) they can positively contribute to their schools and communities. They are asked to write or draw them on the cards.

As they finish, Simon asked the children to mail the cards to him through the school's internal postal system. He will display them on school walls throughout the year.

At the end of the year, Simon said he will ask students if they fulfilled their commitments. If they did, he will return their cards to them with some kind of pin or award attached to them declaring the children heroes. "I'll go to every classroom," he said.

Community members with suggestions of local heroes who can be showcased on the Wednesday hero show are asked to call PGE guidance counselor DeAnna Davis at 637-4400.

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