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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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The courage to change
In the past, words like annoying, rude and uncaring may have fit. Not anymore.
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK
Published May 11, 2007
Preoccupied with his ailing mother's health, Bradley Gilley "just didn't care" about school.
Angry, Jasmine Reid-Chacon spent nearly as much time in the principal's office as in her classrooms.
David Barrs didn't like doing school work, so he didn't. Teachers gave their "speeches, " but he ignored them.
Brandon Evans annoyed so many people that other students asked to have their desks moved away from his.
That was then.
Whether it was a parent's words, positive peer pressure, a teacher's support or renewed faith in God, something got these teens to change their ways.
They represent some of the district's most inspiring rebounds. On Thursday, the district recognized them with Turnaround Achievement Awards.
Here are their stories.
Bradley Gilley, 18, Land O'Lakes High School
Entering freshman year, Bradley Gilley learned his mother had breast cancer.
"I was down, " he said. "When she was sick, I was kind of scared."
Bradley moved in with his dad in Lutz, but tried to see his mom in Texas as much as possible. Still, with each trip to Fort Hood, he worried it would be the last.
"It really brought my grades down, " Bradley admitted. "It was hard for me to concentrate. ... I pretty much used it as my excuse - 'I have more things to worry about.' "
His dad and stepmother didn't know what to do. They cajoled Bradley, called his guidance counselor. In the end, it took Bradley's mother to push him into the classroom.
"All my life she was always, 'Get your grades up, ' " he explained. "Literally, one of the last things she said to me was, 'Please do better in school.' So of course I did."
Gina Grant died on May 11, 2006. Bradley has earned A's in everything but economics since. He will attend Hillsborough Community College in the fall.
David Barrs, 15 Bayonet Point Middle School
Seventh grade was not a good year for David Barrs.
"He punched somebody in the face last year and there was no reason, " math teacher Vicki Camper recalled. "He didn't do his work and he didn't want to be bothered."
"I just didn't like doing any work so I didn't do any. I just goofed off, " David said. "I just didn't really care."
Until he saw his older brother in jail.
"I didn't want to go where he is going. So I decided to straighten up, " David explained.
He exchanged his "really bad" friends for new ones who focused on school and urged him to do the work so they all could hang together in high school. He started listening to teachers he previously ignored.
Instead of failing, he makes B's and C's. David is a quiet but popular class leader who also has influenced others to do the same, Camper said.
Jasmine Reid-Chacon, 16 Wiregrass Ranch High School
Freshman year found Jasmine Reid-Chacon angry, rebellious, troubled.
D's were good grades for her. She had 43 referrals, two suspensions including one for a fight.
"They actually wanted to kick Jasmine out of school completely, " said her mom, Patricia Kayser, who ultimately agreed to place her daughter in an alternative program.
What was going on? Maybe it was her biological father's absence. Maybe it was the arrival of a new stepdad. "That's where a lot of the anger comes from, I think, " said Michael Kayser, her stepfather
Then Jasmine attended a summer Christian sports camp.
"I just saw how everybody was. Life was good for them, " she related. "I wanted the same thing."
Along with God, she found the strength to change her ways. No more arguing with teachers. Nor more starting fights. Honor roll instead of D's and F's.
"It's still a struggle not to argue with someone when they say something I disagree with, to not fight with them because I don't like them, " Jasmine admitted. "But I'm too old for that."
She wept as she thanked her parents, teachers and God for getting her to her new place. If she hadn't changed, Jasmine said, she might be a dropout, or maybe dead. "I can walk around with my head up high now."
Brandon Evans, 14 Pine View Middle School
They called him Spanky. It's a TV character Brandon Evans found hilarious, and he wanted that nickname because he wanted to be the source of laughter.
"I would sit in class and I would just joke around about everything, " Brandon said. School, well, "it meant nothing to me."
Teachers could tell.
"He was a mess, " said teacher Beth Swetland. "He blurted out. He annoyed his peers. He disrupted class. ... Everyone would say, 'Can you move me?' "
His family was surprised. Brandon would preach at his church. He has a strong family, a structured home environment.
What changed him? Brandon pointed to his dad: "He did it."
"You've just got to let him know you're concerned and believe he can do what he needs to, " said dad, Harold Doby. Now "he believes he can do the work. That makes all the difference."
Brandon made the honor roll, and now kids want to hear from him and be with him.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org 813 909-4614 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505 ext. 4614. For more education news, visit The Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.