Tag Archives: Hershey

In online reporting experiment, a good start is essential

The gears are turning, and pretty soon I’ll be embarking on what Ryan Sholin called a “community-directed reporting” experiment. From here on out I’m stealing Ryan’s name for it, because it’s a good one.

The short version: I’ll soon be starting in a new role at The Patriot-News as a hyrbid mobile journalist/general assignment reporter — with a twist. I’ll manage a blog that will solicit story ideas from readers, which they will leave in the comments section. I’ll take some of their best ideas, throw them in poll form, and allow the readers to vote on which story I should tackle next. And that’s the one I’ll write, for both the blog and the print product.

Catch up on more of the thinking behind it, and more details on how the concept will work, in this post from last month. Since then, the project has moved from “That’d be a great idea” to “Got the green light” to “Holy crap, I have to come up with a real plan for this thing.”

An important lesson I learned from my Beatblogging.org experience, during which I set up a Ning-powered social network for the Hershey community I covered: It’s wildly important to get the project off on the right foot, establish the right culture early, and pray that it takes root.

What do I mean by “the right culture?” As I wrote in a Facebook note to 30 of my friends in the area, I’m seeking contributors who:

“are leaving intelligent, productive comments in the early going. I want to establish the culture where the smartasses are ostracized and overwhelmed by the valuable people, not the other way around. If that can be established in the beginning, it will become entrenched and expected behavior among everyone else. If that doesn’t happen, there’s no way my idea can work out.”

“Smartasses” is a term that got me in trouble — rightfully so — when someone found my Twitter account and posted one of my poorly worded Tweets in the comments of an introductory post on PennLive:

@ashleygurbal I ain’t skurred. I have a plan to establish the right culture…building an army now to overwhelm and nullify smartasses.

I shouldn’t have called some (obviously not all) readers that, but the point remains that it’s the users perceived as smartasses that have chased away valuable content by creating a hostile, intimidating environment. They exist on every news site and have a toxic effect.

I considered that introductory post, in which I asked for help picking out a name for the blog, as a bit of a trial run. The response from readers was, quite expectedly, mixed.

to comply with truth in advertising, you need to name the blog, “A general assignment reporter’s worst nightmare.”


How bout naming it “Farmed Out” because you’re too cheap to go get stories, so you want them to come to you.

How long until this thing gets pranked?

I’ll give it 2 weeks until we see a story about a cat nursing a puppy.


Have any of you heard of the saying, “unless you have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all”??? My gosh, why the negativity? I think this sounds like a fun idea.


Instead of worrying about what to call your blog, why don’t you invest that time to spellcheck all of the articles.


You guys are a joke. Can’t wait to see great articles about spelling bees and summer camp.


Forgive my negativity, but this is not what I’d like to see good reporters like Dan wasted on.

Respectfully, newspapers are shrinking all over and I agree with the commenter above – considering the shrinking nature of journalism please use your resources for more important things.


I think this is a great idea! And it might give voice to some cool stories from readers that might not warrant a whole article but would still neat to hear about.


That’s great; play the fiddle while Rome burns.

Our local, state and federal governments are getting more corrupt by the day and you don’t want to allow political discussion on a forum designed around the readers’ interests. Just sunshine and lollypops.


Wow this sounds like a terrible idea. Has anyone ever read the comments on any of these articles. These people are going to start to determine what is newsworthy? Are you kidding me???? Look at the 81 comments on the racist flyer article and you tell me if this is still a good idea.


The ridiculous ideas can be weeded out easily enough. I can honestly see this improving the stories that pour out of the patriot news building.


Awesome! Too many times I’ve witnessed good community events go by the wayside and not even be acknowledged in our local newspaper.

This is coupled with an overwhelmingly positive response on Facebook, Twitter, other j-bloggers and real life people I’ve told about it. I think the success in those areas has a lot to do with me previously establishing credibility, but it still confirms to me that the audience is out there. It’s just going to take a lot of work, and maybe a lot of luck, to get this thing started right.

To that end, I’m relying heavily on social media to spread the word. I’m hoping the people who already approve of the idea can help carry some weight early on, or pass the word on to others who they think would be interested.

There remain a lot of questions about how I’ll actually implement the plan, and how I’m going to avoid some of the trouble spots that are probably on your mind. I plan to address those in FAQ format in an early post on the blog, so please let me know what you think readers (or you) will be concerned about, and I’ll try to address them now.

How to turn an inside brief into a front page centerpiece

Front page of The Patriot-News, 07/24/08It was the kind of press release every reporter hates getting: The dreaded check presentation. You’re almost tempted to cover it, but you know it’s only considered news if you’re lazy or desperately need to fill space. I was neither, and backed by an editor who similarly hates canned press conferences, I decided to ignore the check presentation to announce federal assistance for a new parking center in Hershey, Pa. Check presentations aren’t news.

That said, my editor and I agreed that the parking center was an important topic, even if it was hang-me-please boring. So I set out to update the project’s progress, likely to land inside the local section, maybe sneaking out to the section’s front if it got lucky.

This is the first spot where a reporter can choose to elevate a story higher than your editors might initially think it belongs.

Instead of a simple and hang-me-please boring update on where the project has gone, I wanted to focus on where this new parking center could fit in the area’s long-range plans, especially when it comes to public transportation.

I called the usual suspects: A township official who offered an insightful interview. The director of the bus company to discuss how it could fit into future schedules as a park-and-ride, and how much ridership statistics have increased. An out-of-town public transportation activist to pontificate on why the Hershey community has a lot of potential for bus and rail traffic.

Since we came into this story with low expectations, I likely could have stopped here, written the usual 12 inches and moved on to work on a story everyone liked better.

But I decided to act on a hunch and take a round trip on the bus around the time professionals would be going home from Harrisburg to Hershey. These are the people everyone had been speaking about attracting, and no one — myself, my editors, the bus company officials, the locals I asked on Twitter — really knew¬† whether or not they existed. It was a pure fishing expedition.

And it ended up better than I could have ever imagined. I spoke to a large group of regulars who passed out cookies and sang carols at Christmas time, went out for drinks together on Friday, spoke glowingly about how much money they were saving, and were even thinking of starting a bocce team together. It was a fantastic human story that most people would be surprised to read about. And they even offered support to the idea that their group is indeed growing.

So now the story has evolved:

Check presentation –> Project update –> Look ahead at regional public transportation –> The revelation of a money-saving subculture

And the final product got to incorporate all that project updating and looking ahead that we set out to do.

For young reporters or interns who are gunning for the front page and struggling to make it there, it requires an open mind and a willingness to occasionally go on that fishing expedition. Even the most mundane check presentation can become front page material with a bit of luck and elbow grease.

More good advice here from Hilary Lehman, an intern in San Antonio.

Five months later, reflections on Ning

At the end of the final June meeting of the Derry Twp. school board, I told a parent that I’d see her at the next meeting.

But until then, I enthusiastically said to the Hershey Home member, she should participate a lot on the Ning network!

“Ehh…” she said, shrugging her shoulders.

I half-smiled in acknowledgment, because it was hard for me to argue she should have a different reaction. Truth is, the online network I set up for parents and residents as part of the beatblogging.org project in February just hasn’t caught on with them.

Some raw numbers:

  • Of the 36 members, only 15 have written something in the discussion forum.
  • Of the 15 members who have posted, two of them wrote 35 messages apiece. The other 13 combined for 36 messages.
  • Of those 15, eight of them responded to just one or two topics.
  • Only five members started their own discussion topic.
  • About half have taken the time to fill out minimal profiles.
  • Just six have uploaded photos of themselves for an avatar.

There are six of what I’d call the “highly committed” members. These are people who have really bought into the idea in one form or another, either uploading their own photography, inviting friends to participate, contacting each other through the site, contributing to the discussion, etc.

But even among those six, only one or two of them are really into social media. One has her own blog and Twitter account (and I recently recruited another Twitter user who hasn’t yet participated in the site).

I had very high hopes coming into the beatblogging project, and in some ways I still do. This kind of network has exciting potential as a small-town community organizer, and I don’t intend to give up on the idea.

But the failure to launch of the Hershey Home has necessitated a new strategy that involves shifting my time and effort toward a new blog — and details will be provided in an upcoming post. But for now, a brief retrospective from my beatblogging experience so far.


  • Though the network didn’t bear much fruit in terms of immediate translation to the print product, it did help create offline relationships that were very important. Contacting these people, either by phone or by e-mail or by messaging new members, meant I was able to make personal contact with 36 potential sources I might not have otherwise. A lot of public and private messages on the forum led to productive phone calls.
  • As I detailed in an earlier post, the site’s mere presence was an advertisement for my willingness and desire to hear from residents. I called it an “Open for Business” sign.
  • Due to my insistence that members use their full, real names, the quality of conversation was usually higher than some of the noxious forums that are used otherwise. The members often expressed appreciation for that.


  • It hasn’t been the “Set it and forget it” reporting solution I hoped it might be. One time a big story broke, and I only had about two hours to gather community reaction. I took 20 very precious minutes to pull into the Panera Bread parking lot to use the wifi and solicit reaction on the site. I e-mailed all the members to let them know of my desire to hear from them. When I came back two hours later to see the mountain of riches that had come in, there wasn’t a single message in response. I ended up just calling one of the members.
  • In a community with very little activity on social networking sites, it was difficult to find a full buy-in to the concept.
  • The site did nothing to overcome what residents have repeatedly called a “culture of fear” when it comes to criticizing local officials. So in some of the most contentious and important issues, the ability to be anonymous elsewhere redirected traffic to those other forums.

Since this is getting a little long, I’ll split this up. Coming soon: Where the beatblogging project goes from here, and lessons to be learned for small-town journalism and networking.

CLIPS: How to build a roller coaster (05/18/08)

(This is posted simply so it can be added to my Clips page. Also visit this previous entry to see the video I made along with the story.)

Of The Patriot-News

More than two years ago, Hersheypark officials privately gambled that few people would miss the Western Chute-Out.

They figured the water slide, built in the 1980s, would become old hat as the colorful Boardwalk water attraction opened nearby in 2007.

“We ended up being right,” said Frank O’Connell, the Derry Twp. theme park’s general manager. “We saw a significant reduction in ridership.


In a park with very little available land, where everything new must replace something old, the Western Chute-Out was sacrificed for the next big attraction. Its land became a canvas for what would eventually be named Fahrenheit. The coaster is scheduled to open Saturday.

To build a roller coaster, you must deal with the small: What kind of sand should be used to fill the supporting columns to make the coaster less noisy? You must deal with the big: Is this going to hurt people’s necks?

In a process that spanned several years, the creation of Fahrenheit, Hersheypark’s newest roller coaster, combined advanced engineering and science with the childlike joy of fitting together an Erector set.

Selecting the design

When park officials ask guests what they want to see next, they have consistently delivered two answers:

More water attractions. More roller coasters.

The successful launch of the Boardwalk, which park officials have said was a big reason for a record-setting 2.7 million visitors in 2007, took care of the need to cool down.

But the park hasn’t had a new roller coaster since 2004, when Storm Runner was launched.

It was time.

So the park sent out requests to vendors, asking for their best attempt at filling the long, thin space to be vacated by the Western Chute-Out. The park supplied the topography, the safety requirements, and a few requests.

The coaster must get close to 1,000 riders through the turnstiles per hour. It must have a “vertical lift” — a 90-degree rise that has riders feeling like they’re riding straight up into the sky.

It was, essentially, a design competition. Three months later, they had four bids.

One bid came in too far over budget, O’Connell said.

One couldn’t handle the park’s request for 1,000 riders per hour.

One offered the vertical lift, but didn’t offer enough fun.

Then there was IntaRide LLC, the Glen Burnie, Md.-based division of the Switzerland company that designed Storm Runner. It offered something that got the attention of park officials:

An “est.”

In roller coaster terms, an “est” is bragging rights in the industry. It’s a marketing hook. Sometimes it’s the fastest, or the highest.

What IntaRide offered was the steepest. After the requested 90-degree lift, the design would shoot riders back to earth at a 97-degree angle, surpassing what used to be the United States’ steepest drop of 95 degrees.

The design was selected, and it was time for the park’s engineers to take over.

“I’ve never been asked to build the tallest or the fastest,” O’Connell said. “I think that’s consistent to our philosophy of family-first, safe and clean.

“But we try to find ‘ests’ that fit our core values.”

The plan comes to life

Kent Bachmann, director of design and engineering, and Joe Prowell, the senior project manager, like to say that they worry so you don’t have to.

“The last thing you want to think of is how this was put together, how this was built,” Prowell said.

Of the many challenges he and the other engineers and construction workers face, perhaps two are the biggest:

It has to be done safely.

And it has to be done in a very short amount of time.

Used to be they could get to work in the fall, after summer ended and the park closed. Not anymore, not with Christmas Candylane, a seasonal event in December.

All the construction has to take place between the first week of January and May 24, that constantly impending, inflexible and sometimes horrifying deadline.

Oh, and you’ve got to work in the freezing cold, find a way to make up for days lost to bad weather, and work around April’s Springtime in the Park.

“We said it’s going to open, and daggummit, that thing’s going to open up,” Bachmann said.

The pieces of the ride are assembled in Europe, then come by sea into Baltimore and New York. They’re delivered to Derry Twp. in 60 to 80 tractor-trailers.

Several outside contractors are lined up. The park has to coordinate them and make sure they stay on schedule.

The coaster has now been named by the marketing department, the colors have been chosen, and plans have been announced to the public. Time to get to work.

Fitting it all together

Sometimes Aycock LLC, of Hummelstown, works mechanical construction on power plants. They also work at quarries and food plants.

But assembling a roller coaster is what it really enjoys.

It’s contracted with Hersheypark for more than 40 years, putting together most of the rides, including all of the steel roller coasters.

“You’re going to be a part of something that kids, that people will enjoy themselves on for 20, 30 years,” said Scott Campbell, the project manager. “Every time you go into the park, you have a sense of pride that you participated.”

It’s a good thing they enjoy it, because they work longer hours at the park than on any other project.

In March, at the height of the construction, there were about 20 workers toiling six or seven days a week, with 10- to 12-hour days.

Two weeks before the park opened, they were back on site to check and retorque the bolts on the track and steel columns. That required a 16-hour day, a 14-hour day and a 10-hour day, said Brian Peiffer, a 28-year-old worker from Elizabethville.

So when it’s assembled, and they watch people ride it, the workers feel a small sense of ownership, he said.

“To know that you put it up, helped build it and then to watch somebody enjoy it,” he said. “We made their day.”

During the construction, there are often several different contractors on site, either working together or working on different parts of the ride. One would be pouring concrete to hold the ride’s supporting columns, while another was building the station.

All of them are depended upon if the ride is going to open on time.

“You don’t want to be the first team to get in there and not complete a job,” Campbell said.

One day, several workers stayed after their shifts to watch the first time the empty train went around the track. The workers were dead silent, Campbell recalled, hoping nothing would go wrong.

Then, as it pulled into the station, they all clapped and cheered.

Ready to ride

Before any humans experience Fahrenheit, Fred has to ride it.

Fred is a brown, computerized dummy with no legs who measures the g-forces of the ride. In other words, he makes sure your neck, head and back aren’t jerked around too much.

Fred, coupled with other machinery, feeds data to engineers, who confirm that the ride exceeds safety standards.

Problems could arise from faulty construction work, or unforeseen design problems. Park officials said the track has fully checked out.

Fred is joined in the train by 10 180-pound dummies filled with water. Weekend parkgoers in May could see those dummies taking their rides.

As of now, only one human has taken a ride: Sandor Kernacs, the owner of IntaRide. IntaRide continues to own the ride until it passes state inspection, which is expected to happen this week.

Once ownership is passed on to Hersheypark, the first rides will be given to park officials, engineers, and other workers who put Fahrenheit together.

Then, less than a week later, it’ll be open to the public.

“It’s fun to be in this business,” O’Connell said. “Not too many people get to build a roller coaster.”

What happens when newspaper reporters with no training try to shoot video

This does.

So our photographer wouldn’t have to try to juggle his still and video cameras, I volunteered to shoot some video. I didn’t say I’d be good at it, I just said I’d try it. I clearly had no idea what I was doing.

My favorite moment came when a friendly videographer there said to me: “You know your tripod goes down another foot-and-a-half, right?” Uhhh, yeah…I knew that.

I’d love to hear any feedback — since I already know it stinks, there’s nothing that could be said that would offend me. I’m just hoping that with enough practice, and much more reading before the next time I shoot video, I’ll eventually learn to stink less. Might as well be trying, at least.

And before you say anything about the lack of audio, I would have offered a voice-over had I known it was going to be put online immediately. I’ll offer to add one on Monday.

(Also — if you want to play a game, go to the front page of Pennlive and try to find the video. Let me know if you make it, and if so, how long it took you.)

Why I’m beatblogging: It helps the print product, too

As one of the 13 reporters in Jay Rosen and David Cohn‘s beatblogging.org project, I’ve read a lot of response to the concept.

The Journalism Iconoclast is behind the concept, calling you an idiot if you’re a sports reporter who isn’t on the train.

In a comment on one of Cohn’s posts on Wired Journalists, Maurreen Skowran wrote: “The beats that aren’t local or regional have potential, but they are the minority.”

I strongly disagree. I set up a social network — the Hershey Home — based on a small, local beat. And frankly, I don’t see why any small-town reporter who possesses the necessary computer skills wouldn’t do that same, no matter how many stories you have to write per week.

Here’s the point most often missed: Successful beatblogging saves, not costs, reporters their time. In a fraction of the time and effort, it accomplishes all these goals that any reporter would share:

  • It can drastically increase your quantity of sources
  • It can drastically increase the diversity of your sources
  • It can positively develop your relationship with sources
  • It allows you to stay in constant contact with those sources without picking up the phone and calling them individually
  • It encourages those sources to share story ideas or current happenings
  • It can lead you into background or context to your stories you wouldn’t otherwise know about

Along with these additional benefits that the new-media types love:

  • It encourages a sense of community
  • It gets information to people in the form that they choose
  • It allows for a depth that the print product can’t achieve
  • It makes the news a conversation instead of a declaration

Now if that all were to come at the expense of the print product, we could have a cost/benefit discussion. But it simply doesn’t. A reporter can spend 15-20 minutes per day leading the discussion, then sit back and let the community do everything else for you. They’re happy to be participating, you’re happy to hear from them.

I had 30 residents sign up for my network within two weeks. It’s had its difficulties, which David Cohn is dutifully reporting on beatblogging.org, but it’s also early.

There are many different methods to beatblogging, and I’ll have plenty more to say about it. But I strongly believe this project will make my print product better — to me, the new media benefits are actually secondary.

CLIPS: Grace’s new life at the Milton Hershey School (12/02/07)

Of The Patriot-News

There was never much space between 4-year-old Grace Stanley and her mother, Louann.

They routinely slept snuggled against each other. During the day, Grace rarely left Louann’s side. Grace talked, talked, talked, winning affection with her infectious giggle and near-permanent smile.

Grace was Louann Stanley’s little baby.

She still is. But when Louann sent Grace to the Milton Hershey School in Derry Twp., entrusting a surrogate set of houseparents and an $8 billion organization to feed, clothe, shelter, educate and nurture Grace until she graduates from high school, she had to learn to let go much earlier than most parents.

As Grace learns her ABCs, has her first crush, earns her driver’s license and gets accepted to college, Louann will experience the journey, starting this year, through phone calls and occasional visits.

Grace is the third child Louann, of Shiremanstown, has sent to the school. Everything is free to the single mother, who has entrusted the girls to the school because she must care for a fourth daughter, a mentally handicapped 10-year-old who requires near-constant attention.

But Hannah, 7, and Brianna, 14, didn’t start at the school when they were as young as Grace. This year, Louann knew, would be tough.

At the end of enrollment day on Aug. 4, their final day together before Grace started school, Grace was more interested in playing with her new friends and toys than spending time with her mother.

“I guess I’ll just leave if you don’t want me here,” Louann said to Grace.

Her tone was playful, but it was a difficult goodbye.

Without her mother, Grace struggled to fall asleep her first night.

Enrollment day

When Grace is comfortable, she’s a clown, she giggles unceasingly and she often gives hugs.

On the morning of her first day, Grace wasn’t herself.

While listening to elementary administrators explain the school, she climbed into her mother’s lap and burrowed her head in her chest. Louann repeatedly kissed Grace on the forehead.

Administrators warned parents that the children were likely to have a tough time at first. To ease Grace’s transition, the school told Louann not to come back for four to six weeks and to call only once a week.

“Focus on your dreams and goals,” said Myron McCurdy, a home administrator. “Don’t give in to the temporary pain and sadness.”

Grace met Kara Brady, an assistant principal at the elementary school. Brady told her that she’s beautiful, and Grace gave her a hug.

By lunchtime, the real Grace was emerging.

She met Kyle, who is in her prekindergarten class. They cheerfully chased each other, both carrying balloons, until their parents made them go.

They went to the student home, a spacious but warm place with rooms for eight girls. Grace tried each of the toys in the recreation room.

Now, having met the girls with whom she would live, Grace couldn’t be bothered with her mother. “Who wants to do puzzles with me?” she asked the girls.

Louann took the hint. She asked Grace for a kiss and a hug. Grace quickly complied, told Mom she loved her, and then ran off with her new friends.

Worried about Grace’s sleeping habits, Louann left a pillow in Grace’s cubby. She told the houseparents, Linda and Dennis Van Scoyoc, to give it to Grace only if she needed it – Louann had sprayed it with her perfume.

“My heart is very heavy, but I know she’s going to be taken care of,” she said.

A mother’s battle

In those first weeks, when she couldn’t visit, Louann considered pulling Grace from the school.

“I just missed her presence and her hugs and her kisses and her giggles and her smiles and talking to me,” she said. “She would talk from the time she got up to the time she went to bed. I wouldn’t get one minute of peace because she just didn’t know how to be quiet. I said, ‘Can you be quiet for one minute?’ And we timed it, and she couldn’t do it. It was killing her.”

But Louann knew she was doing this for good reason. She works from home – she does real estate work and tries to sell candles on the side to boost her income – until Diana, 10, returns at 3 p.m. from Broad Street Elementary School in the Mechanicsburg Area School District. Then she devotes her time to Diana; her daughter’s needs have made it impossible to get a full-time job, Louann said.

She and the girls’ father divorced. The girls occasionally visit him.

Some family members thought Louann should have sent Diana to a special school and kept Grace, Hannah and Brianna at home.

“I wanted them to get the best I could give them, and that really is why I sent them there,” she said. “I can’t give them as much as they’re getting there.”

In many places, there’s a stigma attached to “giving up your child” until the school is understood, said John O’Brien, the president of the Milton Hershey School.

Most students enter the school in their middle-school years, so Grace will have an advantage by joining so early, he said. The “Ivy League treatment in kindergarten” can better form self-confidence, he said. “It just then becomes a way of life,” he said. “So that the Milton Hershey way, which is all about character strength, is imbued in a deep and enduring way.”

At first, Grace didn’t make it easy on her mother. Grace felt overwhelmed by the rules she had to learn, such as putting away her toys or sweeping the floor.

“I’m too little,” Grace tearfully told her mother on one of their weekly phone chats in August. “I thought I was grown up, but I’m not.”

Her new home

In class and at home, Grace made progress.

“Grace participates well in whole group settings and is eager to answer questions and learn new things,” her teacher, Lisa Rundle, wrote to Louann in September.

She was well behaved and made friends easily. For show-and-tell, one student brought in a stuffed animal that she had named after Grace. During recess, Grace played with most of the eight students in the class.

As the students chose seats before science class, one girl told her: “I’m sitting next to you because you’re the bestest girl.”

At the student home, one girl nicknamed her “Giggle Gracie” because of her frequent giggling fits. Since she was the youngest, the girls looked at Grace like a little sister, houseparent Linda Van Scoyoc said.

She was becoming more affectionate, initiating hugs with the Van Scoyocs instead of simply allowing them. She had no problems falling asleep.

Initially, she shared a room with her sister Hannah. But Grace was relying on Hannah too much, rarely leaving her, so they were separated three weeks later.

And Grace missed her mom. After each visit with Louann, Grace would struggle to readjust to the home. She’d cry after getting off the phone with her mom.

“They have to grow up fast sometimes,” Linda Van Scoyoc said.

The Van Scoyocs have been houseparents for 26 years but have never had a child as young as Grace. They have two children themselves, one of whom lives at the home.

Their purpose isn’t to replace Grace’s parents, but the children need to feel at home and feel loved, Linda Van Scoyoc said.

Linda Van Scoyoc gathers them before dinner each night to read them a Christian-themed story. They hold hands in a circle and pray before their meal. Over dinner, the girls meticulously follow table manners. They get ice cream and cookies for dessert only if they’ve been displaying good behavior that week.

As it approaches 7 p.m., Grace climbs into Linda Van Scoyoc’s lap in the living room for a bedtime story. Grace brushes her teeth, and they walk back to Grace’s room.

There, Linda Van Scoyoc tucks her in, prays with her and turns out the lights.

Back in Shiremanstown

Home for a long Thanksgiving break, Grace was playing with her sisters better and not talking as much, Louann said.

She was more willing to help and less whiny, Louann said. As Diana played on her own and Hannah watched “Hannah Montana” on TV, Grace joyfully played with her room full of toys.

At night, Hannah and Grace fell asleep with Louann. After Grace fell asleep, Louann carried her back to her own bed.

Around 2 a.m., Louann heard the pitter-patter of feet. Grace returned to the room and squeezed between her sister and mother.

Grace excitedly talked about her friends, houseparents and teachers while she was at home.

When it was time for Grace to return to school, she and her mom hugged, kissed, said “I love you” and parted ways again. For the first time, Grace didn’t cry.

“I know the school is a good place, and I know everything is wonderful, but she’s my baby,” Louann said.

“I know someday she’s going to tell me it was the best thing I ever did for her.”

INFOBOX:ABOUT THE MILTON HERSHEY SCHOOLThe Derry Twp. school for disadvantaged children was created by the town’s founder, Milton S. Hershey.

* WHAT IT PROVIDES: Free education, housing, medical care, clothing and food for the students, whose families must show need. The school spends $76,000 per student per year.

* ENROLLMENT: About 1,700, and the school has pledged to increase enrollment to 2,000 by 2012.

* WHERE THEY’RE FROM: Last year, 28 percent of the students came from Dauphin, Lebanon and Lancaster counties. Three of four students are from Pennsylvania.

* HOUSING: The children live in homes with eight to 12 other students, with a set of full-time houseparents in charge.

* THE STAFF: About 1,000 full-time employees.

* THE HIERARCHY: It’s mandated by Milton Hershey’s deed of trust. The Milton Hershey School Trust owns 30 percent of The Hershey Co., the candy-making company, and fully owns the Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Co., which runs Hersheypark, among other properties.

The Milton Hershey School Trust is run by the Hershey Trust Co., which makes private investments and runs the nonprofit M.S. Hershey Foundation. That foundation runs the Hershey Theatre, the Hershey Museum, the Hershey Gardens and the Hershey Community Archives. The Hershey Trust Co. is worth $8 billion and is intended to keep the school running forever.

CLIPS: Derry elementaries get 2-grade system (09/23/06)

Of The Patriot-News

In Derry Twp. elementary classrooms, the A, B, C and D grade markings you know from your childhood have been expelled.

Now K-5 students strive for a P, which stands for proficient. If a student gets a W, or working toward proficient, that’s OK, too. That just means the student has more work to do. There are no other grades.

The new standards-based report card, modeled after about 30 other Pennsylvania school districts that have undergone similar changes, stops ranking students and focuses on progress toward specific benchmarks, said Cindy Goldsworthy, the director of curriculum and instruction in the Derry school district.

It gives parents feedback in more specific areas and separates factors such as work ethic and behavior from academic concepts and skills.

“This is to get kids, especially when they’re young, focused on what they’re learning much more so than the grades they’re earning,” she said.

Instead of getting a B with an 85 percent in math class, a fourth-grade student might have a P for “Rounds numbers,” but a W for “Renames fractions as decimals.” A boisterous student might get a W in “Demonstrates self control.”

There are 73 grading areas on the fourth-grade report card. On the previous report card, there were 10. The goal is to have a card full of P’s by the end of the year.

Other area districts have changed the way they grade in elementary schools. In 2004, the Northern Lebanon School District began using checks, pluses and minuses instead of traditional letter grades. The Eastern Lebanon County School District uses an “E” for exceeding expectations, an “M” for meeting them, and an “N” for “needing support.”

Reg Weaver, president of the National Educators Association, said there’s been a nationwide movement toward replacing traditional grading systems, but no consensus. Plenty of districts are experimenting, and it’s best for local districts to decide what works, he said.

Any way to give parents more feedback will be beneficial, he said.

“Once the kid knows the home and school is communicating and working together, in most cases you’ll see a difference in behavior, and you’ll see a difference in achievement,” Weaver said.

The impact is reaching into classroom lessons.

Fourth-grade teacher Brian Blase documents more data than he ever has before, but he won’t write scores or percentages on papers, he said. That data helps him direct his teaching at individual needs, he said.

During a geometry unit, one group of students was taken aside for a lesson on line segments. A few others got help on identifying right angles.

Students at elementary age are less motivated by grades than their older peers, and the new system helps him identify problem areas, Blase said.

“Even a student who got an A on the quiz, maybe they still don’t know how to draw a line segment,” he said.

The district is using just two letters to avoid the feeling of rankings, said Joe McFarland, principal of Hershey Primary Elementary School.

Some of the standards, designated by gray boxes on the report card, come from the state. Others are the district’s own.

Lori Dixon, principal of Hershey Intermediate Elementary School, said nonacademic factors are still important, though separate from academic achievement. They’ll be evaluated in a separate section, and misbehavior will be sternly talked about, she said.

But “it really should not muddy the issue of what this child knew and could demonstrate to me,” she said.

Parents and students will receive the first report card at the end of October, but the school is preparing parents for the switch. At a meeting with parents last week, the reaction was mostly positive.

Deborah Smith, who moved to Hershey from Binghamton, N.Y., said the former school district of her fifth-grade daughter used a similar system.

“This way you look at it, and you know the specific area you have to work on,” she said.

But Dana Bergey, the father of a fifth-grader, was skeptical.

“P is going to be ‘good enough,'” he said from the audience. “I don’t want my daughter to be good enough. I want her to be the best she can be.”

After the meeting, Bergey said he had feared the system catered to the lowest common denominator. But after a talk with McFarland, Bergey felt more optimistic, he said.

PTO President Ann Marie Schupper said she has already seen results.

Her fourth-grade daughter used to compare her grades to her seventh-grade brother’s, she said. This year, when her daughter brought home a spelling test with three questions wrong, she had a different response, Schupper said.

“She said, ‘I only have to learn these three,’ as opposed to ‘Oh, I have three wrong,'” Schupper said. “That’s really a great mind set.”

CLIPS: Some workers see buyouts as good news (04/04/07)

Of The Patriot-News

News of job cuts at the West Hershey and 19 E. Chocolate Ave. plants in Derry Twp. were greeted with tears and anger. But at the Reese’s plant yesterday, some workers said their slice of The Hershey Co. reorganization tasted much better.

“It’s almost Hersheypark happy in there,” said Mike Henry, 54, a laborer with 34 years at the plant.

Reese’s workers were told yesterday that 200 to 250 jobs will be cut from the 900-worker plant. Workers said they expect details to be similar to the plans offered at the two unionized plants in Derry Twp.

How’s that good news?

Dozens of workers waved away interview requests, but almost all of the half-dozen or so who chose to speak were optimistic the cuts will be achieved voluntarily.

“Of course we don’t like to see the plant size reduced,” said Joe Peters, a 36-year veteran of the plant. “But if you’re close to retirement, this is definitely a better package than nothing.”

Peters, 57, said he can’t be sure until he sees the details of the offer, but he thought workers over 55 likely would take the deal.

Bill Brown, 55, wasn’t thinking about retirement. But he said he’d take a deal like the one offered to Hershey’s unionized workers last week. The union members approved that buyout plan overwhelmingly.

The plan for the Reese’s plant will not require a vote by workers because they are not unionized.

Lou Henry, 53, has worked at the Reese’s plant for 20 years and said she’ll wait to see the numbers before deciding whether to retire. She agreed that the mood yesterday was positive.

“For the most part, I think the people are very happy with what they’re getting,” she said.

Richard Stichler, 52, said the deal is good enough for him. He has 35 years at the plant, having started at 17. Single, with a daughter who graduated from college, he can work until the end of 2009 and collect the extra four years he believes the company is offering.

“I think I should be pretty well set,” he said.

The mood inside the plant yesterday was “pretty subdued,” Stichler said. He said a lot of people believed the youngest workers will be safe from layoffs.

“It’s just going to make it nicer and better for the younger people,” he said. “They have more of a sense of security.”

Brian Deimler, 22, didn’t know what to think as he was about to start his day. He’s been at the plant for a year and has hopes to stay longer, he said. It might be tough for a 52-year-old to leave, he said, and he wasn’t able to gauge his likelihood of staying.

“Can’t really do anything about it,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.

Steve Neider, who has worked in maintenance for less than a year, said he wasn’t too worried. Even if his job is cut, he said, “there are other jobs out there.”

Derry Twp. Supervisor Mike Pries said in an e-mail statement that “elected officials and work force agencies will assist the displaced employees who will be affected if not enough early retirements are taken.”

“The end result of the restructuring is that once these jobs are gone, they are gone forever,” he wrote.

LeRoy Zimmerman, chairman of The Hershey Trust, said the trust hopes all workers will be included in early retirement plans.

“I anticipated that they would hopefully be happy, because an early retirement package being offered to hourly employees is somewhat out of the ordinary,” he said.

“And I would hope they recognize that, notwithstanding the hardship that these things cause to families.”

The job cuts are part of a massive company restructuring that will result in about 3,000 job losses, although about 1,500 jobs eventually will be added at various plants, including a new one being built by Hershey in Mexico.

CLIPS: What would Milton do? (03/16/07)

Of The Patriot-News

Even 62 years after his death, Milton Snavely Hershey has an opinion on everything.

The name and vision of The Hershey Co.’s founder is invoked in arguments over the future of the company, zoning changes and Internet message board etiquette. To get to the crux of the issues, residents often ask: What would Milton do?

“Milton still really matters a lot,” said Michael D’Antonio, author of “Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire and Utopian Dreams.”

“I don’t know if there are many places in America that you can find a founder so many years after his death that would be so alive in people’s minds and hearts.”

His name has been especially tied to The Hershey Co.’s plans to lay off as many as 3,000 workers while building a plant in Mexico. Locals fear the possibility of the plant at 19 E. Chocolate Ave., the one that emits a chocolate aroma through Hershey, shutting down or losing jobs.

Among the questions asked at a public rally last month: Where is the loyalty to Milton Hershey’s legacy? Will the dream of Milton Hershey die at the hands of Hershey Co. CEO Richard Lenny?

“I met Mr. Hershey, and Lenny could never stand on the same podium as that man,” Ralph Hetrick said at the rally.

So, if he were alive today, what would Milton Hershey say?

“I’m not sure we can say we know what Milton Hershey would do today,” said Tom Winpenny, a history professor at Elizabethtown College who has written papers and articles on the candymaker.

“It’s hard to compare 1905 with 2007. Anybody would make some adjustments to globalization, and I’m sure he would have made some.”

“I think if he had lived through the evolution of American business, he would understand the company’s approach and probably see it as inevitable,” D’Antonio said.

Milton Hershey’s rock star status lingers in his namesake village partly because his influence didn’t stop when he died in 1945.

The trust he left to educate underprivileged children has ballooned to several billion dollars, and the Milton Hershey School in Derry Twp. is increasing to a record-high enrollment of 1,700.

The trust gave $50 million to build the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, which employs thousands of people. Large swaths of land controlled by the trust have resisted the development of strip malls and hotels.

Hershey created jobs outside the United States. He poured money into sugar operations in Cuba, hoping to create a similar town there.

It was an era of civic concern when Milton Hershey ran the company, D’Antonio said, and “thinking people tended to dwell on the meaning of community.”

It was almost automatic for him to devote himself to others, he said.

The first chocolate plant in Hershey opened in 1905, soon to be followed by a post office, general store, barbershop, theater and boarding house for employees, according to the Derry Twp. Historical Society.

A park, which would later become Hersheypark, was created in 1907 as a place for employees to relax; the park and the iconic Hershey Kiss are celebrating their 100th anniversary this year.

Milton Hershey signed a Deed of Trust in 1909 to create a home for orphaned boys, which later became the Milton Hershey School. The development of the town continued through the Great Depression and after Milton Hershey died in 1945.

“Although townspeople felt a deep sense of loss, many knew that they had been well provided for, and life would always be good in Hershey,” wrote Millie Landis Coyle on the Derry Twp. Historical Society Web site.

The town existed mostly to serve the needs of the company employees until the 1960s, said Pam Whitenack, director of the Hershey Community Archives.

Around that time, the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center opened and tourism took off. A junior college that provided free education to Derry Twp. residents from 1938 to 1965 was a factor in the town’s growth, Whitenack said.

“In one perspective, Milton Hershey was about change,” she said. “He also really valued his employees and recognized their importance, and really felt that there was a very strong social contract between the company and the employee.”

Kathleen Lewis, vice president of the Derry Twp. Historical Society, said the company is no longer as paternalistic as it once was, but the area’s identity is still based on it.

“Since the very beginning, the town and the company were very close, and in fact everything that went on here was very intertwined,” she said. “That has changed somewhat, but I think people try to hold on to that feeling because they feel Mr. Hershey did a wonderful thing here.”

Staff writer Monica Von Dobeneck contributed to this report.