Tag Archives: Milton Hershey School

Facebook delivers interviews for breaking, after-hours story

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It was almost 6 p.m. when we discovered in the newsroom that Andrew Stack, the pilot who attacked the IRS building in Austin, was a graduate of the Milton Hershey School, right in our backyard.

For my first 2.5 years at The Patriot-News I covered the residential school for underprivileged children, so I offered to help find classmates who knew him in the 30 minutes I had before I needed to leave for another commitment. I first checked the two main online forums where alumni gather — the Milton Hershey Alumni Forums and TheMilt.com — but no one was discussing it yet.

So I turned to Facebook. I searched for “Milton Hershey School,” but there was no discussion on the school’s main fan page, nor in several other general groups. I searched for “Milton Hershey School alumni,” but no luck there either.

Then I tried “Milton Hershey School Class of,” hoping to find his specific graduating class. Wouldn’t you know it…the very first match was a 33-member group for the Milton Hershey School Class of 1974, which was Stack’s year. As Maeby Funke would say: “That was a freebie.”

Less than an hour earlier, one classmate had written on the group’s wall:

I’m in disbelief…it’s apparently our Andy Stack that crashed his plane into the building in Austin Texas today…I read his “manifesto” online, and he even mentions living in Harrisburg after graduation…I can’t belief it…

I sent him a message, respectfully explaining that I was a reporter who was looking to speak to classmates who had a recollection of him. I sent the same message to four others who had posted recently on the group’s wall.

At this point, as is always the case with using social networks for reporting, you simply cross your fingers and hope that someone is motivated to respond. I find my success rate is usually about one response for every five or six messages I send out. I personally had to get going — my dodgeball team was counting on me! — but I had given the classmates our city desk number, so I was free to leave.

I was literally standing up from my desk to leave when an editor said someone was on the phone for me. It was one of the classmates, and it had been less than five minutes since I had messaged him. I can miss the beginning of the dodgeball game for this, I thought, so I took the call and got a great interview. From my story:

Several years ago, trying to find lost graduates of the Milton Hershey School class of 1974, Mike Macchioni tracked down a man in Texas whom he hadn’t seen in 35 years.

“He was polite, but very abrupt,” Macchioni recalled. “He said he didn’t want to have anything to do with anyone from the Milton Hershey School or the Milton Hershey School itself. He didn’t give the reasons why, but he said, ‘You know, it’s nothing against you personally. That’s just the way it is.’ ”

Macchioni then asked if he could update the man’s contact information in the school’s directory.

“He said he didn’t care one way or another,” said Macchioni, a Hershey native. “He was always very short-tempered. He always struck me as very odd, but brilliant. Smart as hell.”

I filed that and a little bit of the locally relevant material from his “manifesto,” assuming it’d be an addition to an AP story or a break-out, then got up from my desk to leave.

Once again, my phone rings.

It’s another of the classmates I had messaged. This one considered himself friends with Stack. Stack was the bassist in his band — he even remembered the band name, The Mythical Maze — and offered some insight into Stack that no one else would be finding:

“Even though we were practicing all the time and really trying to do well as a group, Andy was still distant,” he said. “He was a part of the group, but he wasn’t the party kind of guy. He wasn’t the type that wanted to get together with his buddies. He was off on his own.”

At this point, I know I’m not playing in any dodgeball game tonight.

I quickly type up the two interviews I’ve got, and all of a sudden I’ve got a 15-inch story that came out of nowhere and took less than an hour to assemble. Just when I hit the send button, I get a message from a third classmate on Facebook:

“Andy was always a little off and unsteady,” Mottin, of Sewell, N.J., wrote to The Patriot-News. “He also had a hair-trigger temper. Plus he had a brilliant mind. Combined, they were a highly volatile cocktail just waiting to explode.”

A few things to remember out of this (the final story is here):

1) I would not have been able to find these sources if I weren’t already familiar with the school and the advanced searching abilities of Facebook. What if the aforementioned online forums, not Facebook, were the home of all the discussion, and I didn’t know those forums existed or how to find them? It highlights why, as a beat reporter, you need to know where every ounce of online discussion in your area is happening.

2) This all came together in less than an hour, after hours, but any reporter familiar with using Facebook for reporting knows there’s nothing extraordinary about what I did. If you’re in a hurry, you have to know how to use these tools before they’re quickly needed.

3) If you’re a reporter who happens to be well-sourced with every graduating class of the last 40 years in every school district in your area, more power to you, but most of us aren’t. For the rest of us, the value of a network like Facebook really shows up in stories like this.

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

BY DANIEL VICTOR
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.