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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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Assistant principal finds a real family at high school
By CHUIN-WEI YAP
Published May 28, 2007
TAMPA - Four hundred and forty-three students graduated from J.W. Mitchell High School Saturday.
Four hundred and forty-two shook assistant principal Jessica Schultz's hand when they got onstage.
One didn't. He hugged her instead. Blink and you would have missed it.
Seven months ago, Schultz didn't even know Brett.
He was the half-brother she had only heard about. The boy from her dad's remarriage. The one who arrived after her parents divorced. Brett, 18, grew up in Holiday. Schultz, 32, lived in Lutz. They share the same last name, but they may as well have been strangers.
Until she joined the Mitchell staff late last year and found him.
"They hadn't seen each other in years," said Belinda Schultz, Brett's mom. "It's just been a godsend, for their relationship and for the whole family."
Jessica calls Brett "my brother" now. None of that "half-brother" business.
He thinks it's cool, the way they met. He laughs about how "there were definitely times when I couldn't screw up because I'd get it doubly worse."
There was nothing dramatic in their hug on stage at Mitchell's graduation ceremony at the Sun Dome Saturday. It lasted only a second.
Jessica organized the big event. When a reporter called the school, she told him all the cool stuff about Mitchell's Class of 2007.
About the 150 Bright Futures scholars. About the kids heading into every branch of the military. About the valedictorian, Mihail Stojanovski, who fled his native Macedonia at 10 to escape a war in Kosovo that was creeping onto Macedonia's doorstep.
He could barely speak English when he arrived in Clearwater, but now he's Mitchell's finest.
Almost as an afterthought, Jessica also mentioned that there were eight graduates who had family among the school staff. The reporter asked for details. She listed the names. She was one of them.
How did she feel? the reporter asked.
"I'm excited," she said. "It'll be really neat. I get to be on stage and I can shake his hand."
State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, is at the podium, cracking jokes and reminding the teenagers to treasure their families. He knows something about this. His dad died when he was 15.
The Schultzes are somewhere in the crowd. Brett said the two families hang out a lot more than they used to. Everyone's going to Brett's graduation party Sunday. They're really one family now.
On the big screen in the arena, the event's organizers flashed candid photographs of graduates. Once in a while, some words would twirl around on the screen.
"It's about friends," the words said. "It's about life."
And hope, and remembrance. Farewells and new beginnings. And, sometimes, a family lost and found.