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Florida students translate message in bottle from German kindergartners

High school media specialist David Richards was walking on the beach in northeast Florida with his father when they found a bottle in the sand.

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“We were looking at it and we're like, ‘Whoa.’ We saw the cork was still in and the barnacles and we saw the message and said, ‘This is really rad,’” Richards said.

The message was written in German, so he brought it to Ponte Vedra High School's German Club so they could help him translate it.

“It took kind of long because we had to look through to try to read it,” student Sydney Vitti said.

“We were able to make out the name of the kindergarten,” student Jennifer Balestra said.

“It comes from a kindergarten school in Germany, (a) small town (called) Altenkirchen,” Richards said.

German Club sponsor Christina Waugh speaks fluent German and was able to help the students read the message.

“They had read a book about a message in a bottle so they all decided to do it,” Waugh said.

Waugh was able to make contact with the school's leaders in Germany.

“She couldn’t believe someone had found the bottle three and a half years later and it didn’t break in the ocean,” Waugh said.

Shortly after the phone call, the school in Germany sent them pictures and a letter.

“We’re still all so surprised that our bottle was found so far away,” Waugh said.

The students said it’s an experience they’ll always remember.

The students want to keep in contact with the school so they're sending a care package and writing letters to the students there.

Florida teacher donates kidney to student’s mother

Donna Hoagland wasn’t even supposed to be Troy Volk’s fourth-grade teacher -- she was just filling in while his regular teacher was on maternity leave -- but the two are forever linked, now that she gave a kidney that’s keeping his mother alive.

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Hoagland knew enough to ask what was wrong when the young math fanatic was too distracted to answer basic questions in his Florida elementary school class.

His answer sometimes came through tears. His mom was sick. He didn’t know if she was going to get better.

“A lot of days, he looked like the weight of the world was on his shoulders,” Hoagland said.

She did what teachers do and asked Troy’s mom Anahita to come in for a conference. But Hoagland was who walked away with homework, researching kidney donations, something she’d considered for a friend.

Volk promised to share some reading material, thinking Volk’s friend was lucky. It turns out, however, that the friend was too sick to be a candidate and unbeknownst to Volk, the teacher had another idea.

Whenever Troy kept asking his mom “What if you don’t get a kidney?” she’d assure him she’d live to see him grow up, go to college, become a CEO and get married. She’s been “sick mommy” for nearly half of Troy’s life.

As much as Volk tried to shield Troy and his younger brother Armaan from her condition, downplay its severity, she couldn’t.

She was hooked up to a dialysis machine every night. She couldn’t cuddle with her boys to watch a movie or for a bedtime story. She couldn’t jump into the pool with them. And in the morning, she’d wake up, retching in the bathroom before school.

“It breaks your heart that you’re the one who is supposed to be taking care of them and they’re the ones taking care of you,” Volk said.

Symptoms of her illness began late in her pregnancy with Troy, but doctors weren’t able to identify a cause. She was sluggish, but they brushed it off as anemia.

Her pregnancy with Troy’s brother tipped doctors off to the kidney disease. Her obstetrician told her she should end the pregnancy and predicted she’d never be able to have more children. She and her husband Joseph insisted — after a second opinion from her kidney doctor — that their second son would be born.

By the time Armaan was a year old, she was in the final stages of kidney failure -- and not one of her large extended family members was a match, not even her sister.

Volk is amazed to get a kidney within a few years of her diagnosis, knowing that people have died on a waiting list.

Volk said she was merely joking when she asked Hoagland at a parent-teacher conference last December if she wanted to give her a kidney. The mom sent Hoagland information, thinking she’d use it to research how to donate to her high school friend fighting cancer.

It turns out he is still too sick for a transplant. Hoagland’s kidney was destined for Volk. After spring break, Hoagland told Volk she wanted to be tested as a match.

“I was flabbergasted. I was like ‘No, are you serious?! I was in total disbelief,” Volk said.

They were compatible. Volk was at Troy’s boxing club in September when his teacher called her with the good news.

“I just fell to the ground and started crying in the middle of the parking lot,” Volk said.

Troy, now 10, was stunned.

“We all went crazy about it. Finding out it was my teacher — shocking. It was shocking. I was blown away,” Troy said.

He says he’s looking forward to waging Super Soaker battles and jumping into the pool with his mom again.

Not wanting to disrupt her students’ lives, Hoagland scheduled the surgery for the winter break. Doctors at University of Florida Health’s Shands Hospital in Gainesville removed Hoagland’s kidney and hooked it up in Volk days before Christmas.

The new kidney started working almost immediately, Volk said. She has more energy than ever before and can’t sleep at night if she doesn’t walk at least two miles a day, she said.

Her doctor told her Thursday that her one kidney is working as well as his two. She tells Hoagland “I got your super kidney.”

The story was featured on Steve Hartman’s “On the Road” segment for CBS Evening News Jan. 5. Hoagland said she’s happy to have done something to make her 21-year-old daughter and 18-year-old twins proud, but she seems unfazed by the attention.

“Three weeks out of my life to sacrifice, to be a little bit uncomfortable, to help her have a normal, healthy life is nothing to ask,” Hoagland said. “She never asked me for my kidney. I just kind of said, ‘Hey, I can give you mine.’”

Volk is blown away by the gift of life and the second chance with her boys that Hoagland has given her.

“The amazing amount of selflessness this woman has is inspiring,” she said.

Ohio teacher under fire for ‘lynching’ comment to black student

An Ohio social studies teacher who told a black middle school student he might get “lynched” by his classmates if he did not focus on his schoolwork is under fire by the boy’s mother, who wants the educator removed from the class.

>> Read more trending news

School officials confirmed that Renee Thole, who is white and teaches at a school in suburban Cincinnati, admitted making the racially insensitive remark to the 13-year-old student on Dec. 4 at Mason Middle School, ABC News reported.

Thole was not fired, but was reprimanded and ordered to take cultural sensitivity training, The Washington Post reported.

That’s not enough for the boy’s mother, Tanisha Agee-Bell.

“I want her removed from the classroom until she can get the proper training,” Agee-Bell told ABC News.

Agee-Bell said her son told her about Thole’s comment, which occurred in front of his classmates, on Dec. 12. She immediately emailed the teacher and then spoke to her on the phone, demanding an apology in front of his classmates, ABC News reported.

“He was in class and the teacher told him that if he didn’t get on task his friends are going to form an angry mob and lynch you,” Agee-Bell told ABC News. “When she said that, he said back to her, 'That’s racist,’ She approached him and said, ‘Why do you think that’s racist? I would never do anything to hurt you.’”

According to the NAACP website, there were 4,743 lynchings in the United States from 1882 to 1968. Of that number, 3,446 were black.

Tracey Carson, a spokeswoman for the Mason School District, confirmed that Thole had made the comment.

“She immediately recognized she had done something wrong,” Carson told ABC News.

The letter of reprimand read in part, “You shared that you realized that you cannot take that moment back but can only strive to make it a teachable moment for you and the students with your actions.”

The teacher did apologize to the teen on Dec. 13. Agee-Bell had her son removed from Thole’s class, WCPO reported.

Agee-Bell said she was not convinced that the teacher understood the gravity of her words.

"I told her, ‘The fact that you’re a social studies teacher and you don’t understand the racial implications of what you said to my son baffles me,’” Agee-Bell told ABC News.

While Thole has not commented publicly, according to her incident summary she wrote that she made a comment “where I didn’t stop and think before I spoke. As a result of that I deeply hurt a student and I regret that.”

Police stand guard as ‘White Racism’ class opens at Florida university

A Florida university placed campus police outside a sociology class called “White Racism” after its professor was flooded with harassing emails and messages -- some of them openly racist, CNN reported.

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Tuesday was the first day of the spring semester and there were no incidents reported in the class taught by Ted Thornhill, an assistant professor at Florida Gulf Coast University. The course was announced last fall and sparked reaction, much of it negative, CNN reported.

“I think most of us don't anticipate there being any unrest or protest or anything like that," Thornhill told the News-Press of Fort Myers. “But it's more of a prudent measure to have law enforcement present just in case."

“All that it takes is that one person to act on their views,” Thornhill, who is black, told CNN. “We've got to be cautious because you don't know what people are capable of.”

According to the course description, the class will “interrogate the concept of race; examine the racist ideologies, laws, policies, and practices that have operated for hundreds of years to maintain white racial domination over those racialized as non-white.” It also will “discuss ways to challenge white racism and white supremacy toward promoting an anti-racist society where whiteness is not tied to greater life chances.”

Thornhill said he decided to title the course “White Racism” because he believes it accurately signifies the material.

“I understood that many white Americans, and some people of color, would find it provocative,” he told CNN.

The professor said he wasn't surprised when he was besieged with messages -- most of them negative -- and some hate mail in the days and weeks after the course was announced. 

He said he was shocked by the reaction but was not backing down.

“It is not my job to provide white people with comfort,” he told CNN.

Thornhill said his course is about a search for truth.

“My White Racism course is not anti-white; it is anti-white racism," he said in a written statement sent to CNN and other news outlets. “Clearly, not all white people are racists; some are even anti-racist. However, all people racialized as white derive, in some measure, material and psychological benefits by virtue of being racialized as white.”

Mother sues school district over voicemail mocking special needs daughter

A Pennsylvania mother is suing a local school district, claiming teachers mocked her daughter, who has disabilities.

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“She could coal mine ... She could be a good coal miner!”

“She has a pretty smile. Her teeth are crooked!”

“She can walk!”

Those are some of the insults that were allegedly left in a voicemail on Beth Suhon's phone. The voices on the other end allegedly are her daughter’s former Claysville Elementary School teachers..

“They have no respect for children, especially children with special needs,” Suhon said.

A teacher initially called Suhon in February 2015 to inform her that her daughter was struggling in school. But he never properly hung up the phone and continued to talk.

“It was very difficult for me to tell my child who has been bullied by her peers for years that she was now being bullied by her teachers,” Suhon said. “Adults can be bullies too.”

Suhon's daughter has Turner's Syndrome, which causes developmental and learning issues. She says she never would have thought the people she trusted with her child would act like this.

Suhon is suing Washington County's McGuffey School District in federal court.

She claims the school district discriminated against her child, retaliated when she addressed the issues and even wrongfully got rid of her daughter's special needs plan.

Suhon hopes the teachers learn a lesson.

“I would like for the school district to acknowledge that they have teachers that obviously need counseling,” she said.

Suhon is also asking for damages, but said an amount has not yet been discussed.

Service dog joins college graduate during ceremony

A college graduate in Texas walked the stage to receive her diploma on Saturday, accompanied by the service dog who served as her inspiration.

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Taylor Dearman graduated from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, and she celebrated her milestone with Skittles, a dog she met while in Georgia, KRIS reported.

They were paired together almost four years ago when Dearman began experiencing anxiety, depression and seizures. Because of that, Dearman had been forced to drop out of Texas A&M -Corpus Christi, where she had been studying nursing. She moved to Georgia to be close to her parents, and when she applied for a service dog, Skittles came into her life.

“It was so bad that I had to quit school and take a year off,” Dearman told Inside Edition. “With (Skittles) I haven’t had a seizure.” 

The dog also became an inspiration.

“It kind of, ya know, really pushed me to become an educator because every day I got to educate someone about having a dog," Dearman told KRIS. “Others had commented ‘You're not disabled, you aren't in a wheelchair.' and (she) said, 'Just because you can't see it, doesn't mean there's (not) something that could be wrong.’”

Skittles also has accompanied Dearman to her student teaching courses.

"My students, they get to learn about her every single day. And I'm teaching, and I'm doing what I love and I get to inspire our future, which is amazing," Dearman told KRIS.

Now that she's graduated, Dearman plans to pursue a job as a fifth-grade reading teacher, KRIS reported.

Grandmother, granddaughter graduate together from college

For the first time in its 150-year history, Chicago State University awarded diplomas to a grandmother and granddaughter during the same ceremony, WLS reported.

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Belinda Berry, 62, and Karea Berry, 25, both walked across the stage at the Jones Convocation Center on Thursday to accept their diplomas. 

Grandma graduated at the top of her class with a 3.8 grade-point average in business. Her granddaughter Karea Berry earned her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, WLS reported. 

Both plan to pursue their master’s degrees.

"It was never planned, we both enrolled in school and we didn't know we were going to finish together because I was full-time and she was part-time, and it just worked out that way," Karea Berry said.

Belinda Berry walked first, followed by Karea Berry.

"I have always stressed that education is power,” said Belinda Berry, who went back to school part-time to improve her employment prospects. “I am very honored to be a role model and I hope that I am an inspiration to the young as well as the old, because it is never too late to pursue an education.”

Watch: He’s going to Harvard, and Louisiana student’s reaction is priceless

It has been quite a week for two Louisiana brothers. Both were accepted into big-name colleges, and separate videos of their reactions have gone viral.

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On Tuesday, 16-year-old Ayrton Little and his classmates at T.M. Landry College Preparatory waited as he opened his email to see if he had been accepted into Harvard University’s 2019-2020 class, WAFB reported. The junior’s reaction is priceless when he gets the good news.

His classmates shout “three-peat,” as it is the third consecutive year that a T.M. Landry student has been accepted to Harvard, WAFB reported. 

Ayrton said he plans to major in applied math and computer science.

His celebration came on the heels of a joyous day for his older brother, Alexander Little. On Friday, Alexander got the news that he had been accepted into Stanford University.

Alexander said he plans to major in physics with a minor in computer science.

Hitler-themed homework assigned to middle-schoolers angers parents

Parents in a Chicago suburb are furious after their kids brought home a homework assignment called “If You Give Hitler a Country.” The assignment reportedly told the students to “create a comic strip for little kids that exemplifies Europe’s appeasement towards Hitler.”

>> Watch the news report here

At Woodland Middle School in Gurnee, Illinois, eighth-grader Michael Masterton told WGN that “everyone in the class was given the paper and it tells you all the requirements.” His mother, Kelly, was a bit more taken aback by the homework, telling the Chicago station, “I asked him, ‘Did you ask the teacher if you could use these images?’ and he said yes. … I’m not sure what the appropriate manner is to use a swastika.” The concerned mother posted the image to her Facebook page and said, “[I] don’t think [the teacher] did it to be anti-Semitic. I think she was trying to teach that there was propaganda. ... It did not come through that way.”

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On the handout, a cartoon character is shown wearing a Nazi uniform and sporting an Adolf Hitler mustache while giving a Nazi salute. Michael told NBC Chicago that he asked for an alternative assignment, saying, "Some kids were being a bit immature and trying to make this assignment a little bit funny, and it’s disgusting.”

School board president Carla Little apologized in a statement and said the assignment was aimed at teaching students about the appeasement negotiations between the Nazis and opposing countries and the events leading up to World War II. Kelly said she’s not satisfied with the school's explanation and wants to know “that they’re not going to go ahead and give more assignments and make light of it.”

Read more here.

Middle school teacher charged with sex crimes involving students

A grand jury indicted a middle school teacher in Caldwell County, North Carolina, on five felony counts of taking indecent liberties with a child.

>> Watch the news report here

WSOC-TV reporter Dave Faherty was there as authorities brought in 29-year-old Justin Biggs. 

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Police said Biggs has resigned from his teaching position at William Lenoir Middle School.

Lenoir police said they began their investigation in November after a female middle school student reported being assaulted on school grounds. The investigation led to more students coming forward, totaling five, according to police.

>> Teacher accused of having sex with 16-year-old student in park

The indictments said Biggs, who was a math teacher and softball coach at the middle school, committed a lewd act on a child

Police said all of the incidents happened on school grounds.

"It's hard on the school and the children there,” Lenoir police Capt. Brent Phelps said. “These are tough cases."

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