Theft Permeates School

Posted on February 7, 2012


News | Erin Agnew

Springfield Township is the perfect archetype: a quiet town with neat lawns, a busy library, friendly neighbors, and pride in its youth.  This pride is displayed in praises which glow as brightly as the LED lettering of the billboard immediately evident at the exit ramp to 309.  From the achievements of our sports teams, to the triumphs of our extracurricular clubs, to the successes of the Students of the Month, Springfield has no shortage of accomplishments to celebrate. Yet recent events have colored the environment of the high school and given both students and teachers cause to think about the school climate here at STHS.
It is widely accepted by developmental psychologists, patient teachers, and disgruntled parents that the high school years are a time for testing boundaries of a social, ethical, and personal nature.
However, the disappearance of two antique coins from Mr. Eickhoff’s US History class suggests that some students are exploring the lessons to be learned by testing these boundaries in an inappropriate fashion.  What began as the traditional “hands-on history” lesson to bring the 1890 to 1920 unit to a close ended up as an incident which has left a “question mark” over the head of each student in the D-block class, and one hanging over Mr. Eickhoff’s head as well.
Mr. Eickhoff says that while things have been taken from his classroom before, he sees this theft as an isolated incident, and is not upset by the loss of the coins themselves. No, the commemorative coin from the Columbian exposition of Chicago of 1893-94 and the fifty cent piece of the same era were not the greatest losses to his classroom that day; what truly disappoints him is the loss of the “bond” that exists between students and teachers.  Citing a sweatshirt left on a desk in his first floor room as an example, he articulated “None of us wants to think that in our forgetfulness we would lose something to someone else’s desires.”
The well-loved history teacher is hardly alone in his assertion. School is supposed to be a nurturing environment where hand holding isn’t required.  One can certainly hope to find respect and safety for personal possessions. Student  thoughts on the issue support Mr. Eickhoff’s theory that the theft was the action of no more than two people, he explains that this leaves, “16 or 17 students thinking ‘What is this man talking about?'” when  Mr. Eickhoff organized his class for a discussion of responsibility the day following the theft.
“It just bugs me that anyone would actually steal from him,” commented Junior Chris Grogan, “Those coins obviously meant something to him, as most of his collection seems to.”  Junior Julia Diviny echoes this supportive sentiment, expressing her disappointment in this “lack of respect…for other [students] and teachers.”  As encouraging as these statements are, other student reports of frequent disappearances of iPods, cell phones, and cameras seem to posit that Springfield may not be the safest school for small, valuable possessions.
I have personally had great luck with belongings misplaced and recovered at Springfield.  A camera left in the lower house found its way back to me based on family photos in which the finder recognized my older sisters, both Springfield alum. Just last month I had occasion to leave my entire backpack in the library for the duration of a school day and the contents came through unscathed.   But it appears that my good fortune is an anomaly largely dependent upon location and timing.
The most common place at STHS from which property disappears is, unsurprisingly, the gym locker rooms. Unwatched for 90 minutes at a time and full of valuable jewelry, electronics, and clothes, locker rooms are an easy target for anyone looking to profit from a look at the catalog of lock combinations and a rummage through classmates’ lockers.
An iPod recently went missing from the boy’s locker room, taken out of its owner’s gym locker.  Two weeks later, with word of the theft passed around the class, the music player turned up on a bench in front of the locker from which it disappeared. I applaud the would-be thief for eventually returning such tempting contraband, but the truth is that the theft never should have happened. This particular instance is a scary example of the loss of the bond about which Mr. Eickhoff spoke.
When asked about the possible nature of the theft in his classroom, Mr. Eickhoff speculated: “It could be someone who was angry at me for some reason, it could be someone who thought it was a joke and it didn’t quite pan out, somebody who wanted to see if they could get away with it…”
Mr. Eickhoff has had items used in hands-on history lessons stolen from his class before.  The last stolen display piece went missing during a class period full of juniors, and re-appeared anonymously beneath the classroom podium the year that junior class graduated. Just like the iPod incident, the thief took time in recognizing his or her actions as harmful, and anonymously returned the stolen goods.
If a person can be noble enough to return stolen goods and ashamed enough of their crime to do so anonymously, I would assume that same person would not steal in the first place.
So, what is it that drives students to do things which will ultimately hurt others?  Most of Mr. Eickhoff’s theories about the nature of student thieves revolve around teachers as authority figures. That is to say, students are sticking it to the proverbial “man” by sneaking away with cherished goods.
These theories obviously cannot apply in the case of an iPod, calculator, cell phone, camera, or any of the other personal possessions lost at our high school. The owners of these stolen goods have been the peers of the thieves.  Sure, as students we are accountable to our teachers now.  But in 10 years, we will be operating in a world filled with peers to whom we are accountable.  This is what has me worried.
Flippant theft is by no means isolated to our high school.  In a survey of high school seniors last year, thirty percent of students admitted to having stolen from a store. But more alarmingly, 23 percent have stolen from a friend and 20 percent have stolen from a family member. In the same survey, well over fifty percent agreed with the statement: “When it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know.”  Now, either these students all associate with a very low caliber of person, or our generation is experiencing some kind of disconnect between action and responsibility. Frankly, this can’t go on.  We simply cannot operate as a society if our world is soon to be full of self-serving, thoughtless young adults.
There may be more hope than recent events seem to leave room for.  The incidence of crimes like theft and non-lethal violence in high schools increased by 35 percent from 1969 to 1972.  In a 1969 issue of The Chronicle, another concerned editor donated a large graphic to questioning theft and crime at Springfield Township High School.  The students who read that very page and committed the thefts it referenced have since grown up and become our parents, teachers, and community leaders.
These individuals probably do not think twice about that bracelet they stole from the girl in their gym class on any given day.  But I’ll bet that girl often wishes she could wear it as a reminder of days past.  Her dad gave it to her, and she had planned to have it on at her wedding.  If any future thief would just take a moment to think about similar implications before acting, the world have more respect for our generation on the whole.
So here is my challenge for you next time you think of taking anything from a student or teacher, or overhear a friend talking about having done so.  Think about how you are hurting the person you’re stealing from.  What seems to be just a cell phone to you is its owner’s only link to her older brother, away at college.  The person whose calculator you took at lunch had a Calculus test during D-block.  The microphones, missing from the tech booth of the theater not only cost the school thousands of dollars, but gave young ‘techies’ real world training for future illustrious careers.  That is what it means to “break the bond.”  Hurting others by self-serving actions is never excusable, and it truly does alter a school environment.

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