Caches of contraband

Tuesday, May 17, 2005
Cell phones and other gadgets are waiting for the owners to claim in the desk of Brenda McCowen at Central Junior High School.

The forgone cell phone exhibit is in a drawer on the left side of a wooden desk.

The inappropriate key chain and annoying laser light sections intermingle in a bottom drawer. An impressive collection of compact disc players is on display in a nearby cardboard box.

Welcome to the Museum of Nuisance Items, also known as Brenda McCowen's office at Central Junior High School.

By the end of a school year, teachers and principals usually have a variety of confiscated items tucked away in their desks -- everything from GameBoy video games and bracelets to photographs of students kissing in McCowen's case.

By far, McCowen's largest collection is cell phones, which students are not supposed to bring to school. She also has cameras, wallet chains, deodorant and body sprays, playing cards and hats.

"It's kind of amazing what you do collect," McCowen said.

A few years ago, students brought "fart machines" to school. The noisy machines became a disruption, so they were confiscated.

"There are a lot of key chains too. There was one that told a story using the names of candy bars," she said. "It was pretty raunchy, but you had to laugh at it because it was a story made up entirely of candy bar names."

Junior high students aren't the only ones bringing inappropriate items to school. Even kindergartners can pull some surprising things out of their backpacks.

"I've had a pager, little helicopters and a lot of toys," said Mary Ann Lewis, a kindergarten teacher at Blanchard Elementary. "One time I had a wedding ring."

Teachers usually keep such things until the end of the school year and then return them to students. In the case of the wedding ring, Lewis called the student's parents, who came and retrieved it.

Rhonda Dunham, principal at Franklin Elementary and a former teacher, has encountered her share of embarrassment calling parents to report that their children have brought inappropriate photos and adult products to school.

"For show and tell, one student brought a photo of dad dressed up inappropriately, and it wasn't Halloween," Dunham said.

Students come in with stray animals, lighters and all kinds of toys. Even at the elementary level, cell phones are big.

"Kids are a little bit more inventive than when I was younger," Dunham said. "And parents don't hide things very well. I tell them it could be so much worse. It could be a weapon. This is just a little embarrassment. Kids don't know any better. It's when adults make a big deal that it becomes something negative."

cmiller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 128

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