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A look back: When Time Magazine featured Webster Groves High School on its cover

A look back: When Time Magazine featured Webster Groves High School on its cover

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Editors note: In October 1999, Time Magazine turned to Webster Groves for a cover story on high school life after the Columbine shootings. The following story ran on Oct. 18, 1999.

In 1966, CBS put Webster Groves in the spotlight with a one-hour documentary on the St. Louis County community and its high school students. When "Sixteen in Webster Groves" aired, many residents were outraged, saying they were unfairly portrayed as out of touch, spoiled and overbearing. Instead of shining in the spotlight, they got burned.

So it's understandable that some folks were on edge when Time magazine camped out at Webster Groves High School this fall for an article on high school in the post-Columbine era.

Parents, students and other residents who got a sneak peek of the 35-page cover story, which comes out today, say this time around the spotlight points out the warts, but it shows off the good features, too.

"I'm going to take a guess that this will be better received, and I think we can look at it and feel pretty good that (Time) came to Webster Groves, " said Charles Schneider, who was among the 16-year-olds profiled in the CBS documentary and now sits on the city council.

Eight reporters and five photographers spent a full week at Webster Groves High School in late September and early October. The magazine said it picked Webster Groves, a town of 23,000, for its middle-of-the-road demographics.

"And yet this school, like every other school, is changing fast, by accident and design, because everything that touches it is changing too - the economy, family life, technology, race relations, values, expectations."

In reading the report, it's hard to sum up Webster Groves High.

It's a place where a suicidal boy nonchalantly works a straight pin through his tongue, then asks his teacher what happens to students who threaten their instructors. It's where a senior keeps a marijuana pipe in his car and gets stoned during a trip to Burger King for lunch.

But it's also where a group of students gather at a classmate's home at 6 a.m. each Friday to pray. It's where an energetic science teacher takes students to an empty field for late-night meteor showers.

Ron Zager, whose daughter Anne appears in the article, said the complex picture is an accurate one.

"They didn't try to pigeon-hole Webster Groves, and I don't think you can, " he said.

Still, not everyone is happy with the whole description. Principal Pat Voss said Time did a good job at showing the cross-section of students. But she objects to descriptions of Webster Groves as having watered-down academics and a fortress-like environment.

Senior Bobby Granderson said he agrees with the overall description of Webster Groves but that some parts about him in the article cut too deep. He's described as a gridiron star with charm and good looks, but also as a student with a 1.6 grade point average and 109 tardies last year.

"I felt like they dug into my personal life more than anybody else's, " Granderson said.

As mayor of Webster Groves from 1994 to 1998, Terri Williams often attended national conferences. When people saw the name tag with her city on it, they would invariably stop her and mention that they'd seen the documentary.

"I remember the documentary came across as very negative, and I'd heard from a lot of people that they still held a grudge against Charles Kuralt, " she said, referring to the show's narrator.

(A press release from Time quoted one Webster Groves '67 graduate as saying, "Looking back, there was more truth to it than we wanted to admit at the time.")

Now, as executive director of the Webster Groves Area Chamber of Commerce, Williams helped the Time crew find lodging and restaurants.

"I think I was a little apprehensive. I didn't want Webster Groves to be portrayed badly because we're a really, really good community, " she said.

Voss, the principal at the high school, likened the article to bringing someone into your home.

"In one sense it's exciting, " she said, "and in another, if you invite people in to have a careful look, there are things you're proud of and other things you wish that were different that you're working on. That's the risk you take."

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