In the third book of the Samantha Sanderson series, when the school’s grades were tampered with, Sam must enlist Makayla’s help in hacking the system to discover the virus that was used and who committed the crime. But when the lead suspect is her newfound friend, Felicia, Sam must choose whether to stick by her friends at all costs or report the story as she sees it.
The Samantha Sanderson series is about an ordinary girl with extraordinary dreams. Each book touches on a crime straight from headlines, from bomb threats to bullying, while following Samantha and her friends as they navigate middle-school and questions of faith.
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Samantha Sanderson Off the Record
By Robin Caroll Miller
ZONDERKIDZCopyright © 2015 Robin Caroll Miller
All rights reserved.
Look at you, sporting such fashion sense." Samantha "Sam" Sanderson grinned as her best friend, Makayla Ansley, joined her table in the school cafeteria before school.
Makayla nudged Sam as she dumped her backpack on the table and sat on the bench beside her. "Shut up." Makayla giggled. "You know it would hurt my mom's feelings if I didn't wear the coat they got me for Christmas."
"I know. Just teasing you." Sam scooted to make more room for her bestie on the bench. "You know I love it too. I love leather bomber jackets."
Makayla blew on the fake fur collar. "Yeah, but it's a bit much for school, don't you think?"
"Nah, girl. You're rocking it." Sam pouted her lips and snapped her fingers.
Both girls laughed.
"My, aren't you two, um, jolly this morning."
Sam and Makayla stopped laughing. Sam gritted her teeth and turned to face Aubrey Damas, the meanest mean girl in the school. She was also the school newspaper editor and constant thorn in Sam's side. Sam forced herself to remember her new year's resolution. She planted a smile and put a pleasant tone to her words. "Hi, Aubrey. Did you have a nice Christmas?"
"Of course. Daddy flew us all to Hawaii to spend the holiday on the beach." Aubrey focused on Sam. "I'll be handing out this semester's reporting assignments today in class. You don't want to be late for that, Samantha." She laughed—more like cackled—and moved toward a circle of her friends in the opposite corner of the cafeteria.
"She goes out of her way to be a brat," Sam muttered.
Makayla gave Sam a quick side hug. "Ignore her. She just tries to get under your skin because she's jealous of your talent."
"Hey y'all." Lana Wilson, a fellow newspaper staffer and cheerleader plopped down on the bench beside Sam and Makayla. "What'd the she-beast want?" She nodded toward Aubrey's retreating back.
Sam grinned. "To annoy me, of course." That wasn't breaking her resolution, was it?
Lana grinned back. "Same old Aubrey. So, how was your Christmas break?"
Sam twisted around on the bench, determined to ignore Aubrey as much as humanly possible for the rest of the year. That would probably be the only way she could keep her resolution beyond this week. "Great. Mom took me on an assignment with her, which was totally cool." Going with her mother to cover a story had cemented Sam's desire to be a journalist. She had definite plans for taking the steps needed to set her on a successful career path to journalistic greatness. Outstanding reporter this year, editor-in-chief next year, then hello high school paper.
The only way Robinson High School's newspaper accepted a freshman on staff was if they'd been the editor of the middle school's paper, and getting on the high school paper staff was important. They were very elite in the acceptance process, and with good reason. For each of the past three years, two students from the high school had received full scholarships from the University of Missouri, which was ranked as the number one journalism college by Princeton Review. Sam planned to get a scholarship to Mizzou.
But first she had to get through this year of dealing with Aubrey and make her way to replacing her next year as editor of the Robinson Middle School's paper, Senator Speak. Not an easy task, that was for sure.
"That's so cool you got to see your mom work." Lana smiled.
"What about you?" Makayla asked her. "Did you have a nice holiday?"
"I did. My parents got remarried on Christmas Day." Her eyes were bright. Her parents had been divorced barely a year, but had been working on reconciliation.
"Oh, wow! That's awesome, Lana." Sam was truly happy for her friend, knowing how badly Lana wanted her parents to get back together.
"That's the best present ever," Makayla said, tears in her eyes.
Sam shook her head. Mac could be so emotional and wasn't afraid to show it. Sam, on the other hand, was mortified to show emotions. Especially tears. She refused to cry in front of anyone, period.
"I know. I'm so excited. We're going house hunting together this weekend."
The bell rang and the cafeteria filled with noise as everyone clamored toward their lockers. Sam led Makayla outside through the maze of bodies to the seventh grade ramp. She shivered against the cold January wind whipping down the breezeway. Robinson Middle School was designed in such a way that no hallways were enclosed. The open campus had its benefits, but warmth during cooler weather wasn't one of them.
"Did you hear there's a chance of snow later this week?" Makayla asked as she opened her locker.
Sam shoved her backpack in her locker and grabbed her English book. "Yeah. I hope it does. If school's canceled, I'm sure Dad can pick you up to spend the day with us." Her dad was a detective with the Little Rock Police Department, but that wouldn't be why he could get Mac — he also drove a four-wheel drive truck. Sam shivered and snuggled deeper into her coat.
"Hey, we get report cards this morning don't we?" Makayla slammed her locker shut. "I hope so, because that will get Mom off my back. She nearly drove me crazy over the break, making me do practice work."
Sam laughed and hugged her books close to her chest to block some of the wind. "At least she let you start working with that computer geek group."
"It's not a computer geek group," Makayla said with a snort. "It's a computer research demographic group."
"Um, yeah. Whatever." Sam checked her watch. "Gotta run. Can't be tardy the first day back at school. See you later." And with that, she rushed off toward her homeroom for activity period.
The second bell rang just as Sam sank into her chair. She picked up the new semester schedule her teacher had placed on her desk and studied it. She would be replacing her third period keyboarding class with PE. That wasn't a big deal because she liked being active, but why couldn't they let the cheer team have a class in place of PE like the football players did? Sam sighed.
After the bell rang, signaling the end of the activity period and the beginning of first period, Mrs. Beach, the seventh grade English teacher, gave them the easiest assignment ever: write a two hundred and fifty word essay on what you did over winter break.
Sam tapped her pen against her chin. It was hard to write creatively with a pen and paper. She was much better at composing with her MacBook. There was just something about the process of having her fingers on the keyboard that made her creativity spark. Hmm. Maybe she should go at it just as if she were writing an article for the school's blog. Factual, informative, and interesting — the three rules her mom said were critical in good journalism.
"Sam," came a whisper from behind her.
She turned and smiled at Grace Brannon, also a cheerleader, seated behind her. "Hi, Grace."
"Aren't we supposed to get report cards today?" Sam nodded. "They'll probably give them out before the end of the day."
"Last year, they gave them out with the new schedules in activity period."
Sam shrugged. "Dunno then."
"Ladies, are you ready to share your essays?" Mrs. Beach asked, staring hard at Sam and Grace.
"No, ma'am. Not quite yet." Sam turned back around in her seat while a couple of kids chuckled.
The rest of the day dragged on, as if someone had shoved peanut butter in all the school's clocks. Finally, the second bell rang for last period. Sam ran into the classroom they used for the newsroom and immediately spotted an envelope with her name sitting on her desk. She dropped her backpack on her chair and ripped open the envelope. Time for Dad to pay up. This year was going to be expensive.
Their deal was whatever grade she was in, that's the dollar amount she'd receive per A. So, if she made straight A's on her report card, she'd get forty-nine bucks because she was in the seventh grade. It was pretty cool. And if she made all A's the entire year, especially since she took advanced placement classes, Dad would surprise her with a bonus.
She hoped he planned to stop by the bank on his way home from work and get cash. He'd owe her almost fifty bucks. She pulled her report card from the envelope.
Sam stared at her report card. A C in English? Seriously? On her mid-semester interim, she'd had a ninety-nine percent. Something had to be wrong. And what about that B in creative writing, the official course title for the newspaper? Had Mrs. Pape let Aubrey give input on their grades? Surely not.
Sam glanced up and realized people were raising their voices all around her. She'd been so upset about her own report card that she'd zoned out. Well, she tuned in now.
"I got an A in Science. I was almost failing on my interim."
"A D in PE? How can I get a D in PE? That's like ... it's just wrong."
"Mrs. Pape, I think you made a mistake on my report card. I know I'm not the best reporter or anything, but a C?" Luke Jensen asked.
Sam bit her tongue. Luke Jensen had sandy blond, wavy hair and eyes that reminded her of dark chocolate. In short, he was the cutest boy at Robinson Middle School. Well, to Sam anyway, not that he knew it. He barely knew that she was alive, even though they'd gone to school together since kindergarten at Chenal Elementary.
Although with the stories she'd covered for the school paper this year, he'd at least noticed her reporting abilities. That was a start, right?
"Me too, Mrs. Pape," Tam added.
Sam shook her head. No way did Tam get anything less than an A. The boy was scary smart. If he wasn't such a nice guy, Sam might actually resent his brilliance.
"I don't know what's going on. I didn't give any of you a C." Mrs. Pape sat in front of her computer monitor. "Hang on, let me check something."
In that moment of silence, Sam heard commotion from the other classrooms spilling down the hallway. Loud voices. Fear cracking in some of them.
This was more than just a couple of errors. It sounded like the entire school was on the verge of erupting into complete chaos.
"Well, do-gooder, this is a fine mess, isn't it?" Felicia Adams was the eighth grader who transferred recently after being expelled from a private school. Everyone, teachers included, thought she was bad news with an even worse attitude.
Sam saw her differently.
She learned that Felicia, who'd been a cheerleader as well as on newspaper and yearbook staff at her private school, had been forced by her mother to sit out of all extra-curricular activities at Robinson as a form of punishment. But then her mother had a change of heart and allowed Felicia to join the newspaper staff. Mrs. Trees, the principal, agreed after Felicia promised to have a 4.0 by the end of the first semester and to not get another referral to the office for a rule violation.
"My mother is going to kill me if this D in Algebra is right," Kathy Gibbs moaned, on the verge of tears. "I'll be grounded until I leave for college."
How many other kids' parents were going to go ballistic when they saw these report cards? Would they believe there was a problem with all the report cards—or at least many of them? School was set to dismiss any second now.
"I'm not sure what's going on," Mrs. Pape began.
"Teachers, boys, and girls, may I have your attention, please?" The principal's voice over the intercom silenced everyone immediately. "We understand there seems to be an issue with the report cards."
Just then, the automatic dismissal bell rang, drowning out Mrs. Trees. A chorus of kids erupted in the breezeway. Lockers slammed, swallowing the principal's announcement.
"I guess we'll learn more tomorrow." Mrs. Pape's voice was lost as the newspaper staff filed out of the classroom.
But not Sam. She reached for the wireless keyboard to one of the newspaper's computers. The report cards problem was breaking news. And maybe, just maybe, if she could get the story up on the blog, some kids might be able to show their parents there really was an issue. She ducked her head as her fingers flew over the keyboard.
"What are you doing?" Mrs. Pape stood over Sam's shoulder.
"Well ... major errors on all report cards is a big deal. It's breaking news. I thought we should get it up on our blog."
Mrs. Pape smiled. "Good thinking, Sam."
"I'm going to run up to the office and get Mrs. Trees' statement. The bell cut off her announcement."
Mrs. Pape nodded. "I'll wait for you to get back."
"Thanks." Sam grabbed her iPhone from her backpack and texted her mom as she walked.
Finishing up a story. Will be out in a few.
It was awesome that her mother was a journalist so she "got" how important following a story was. It sure made things much easier.
Sam swung open the main office door. Surprisingly, the place was packed with kids, even though the buses were already pulling out of the circle. Kids were clamoring to get the principal's attention. A couple of girls were crying.
"If you'll all just listen for a minute," Mrs. Trees started.
Sam opened the ISaidWhat?! app on her phone and pressed the record button.
"We know there's a problem with your report cards. It's too late in the day to call the district office, but I'll get in touch with them first thing in the morning to have someone look into this."
"But Mrs. Trees," one girl with tear tracks down her cheeks said, "my report card shows I got three Ds. My mother won't believe there's a problem with the report cards."
The principal nodded. "Turn your report card back in."
The girl shook her head. "My mother knows we're supposed to get our report cards today. If I don't give it to her, she'll think I'm hiding something."
Wow. Sam caught her bottom lip between her top and bottom teeth. Her mom would automatically believe her. Her dad, a detective with the Little Rock Police Department, had more of a suspicious mind, but he would believe his own daughter. Surely if this girl explained it to her mother ...
"Hand me your report card and I'll write a note to your mother," Mrs. Trees said, holding out her hand.
The girl let out a long breath and handed her report card to the principal. "Thank you. My mother always wants proof of everything."
"Can you make a note on mine too, Mrs. Trees?"
"Yes, I'll write a note for everyone who needs one."
Sam stepped to the right of the forming line. "Mrs. Trees, I'm reporting on the report card errors for the school paper. The bell cut off your statement."
The principal stopped writing and glanced at Sam. "Ah, welcome back, Sam."
Sam offered a wide smile. She and the principal had an I-kind-of-like-you-but-kind-of-don't type of relationship. "What would you like to say about the mistakes?"
"We don't know what happened just yet. I'll be contacting the district as soon as I can to have someone look into the issue. Until then, I won't speculate on what the problem is." Mrs. Trees handed a report card she'd written on back to an eighth grader Sam knew to be on the football team. She took the next one from the girl standing behind him.
"Does the problem affect all the report cards?" Sam asked.
"I can't say at this time. We simply don't know." Mrs. Trees traded report cards again.
So non-committal. Sam held her iPhone closer to the principal. "Can you tell me the process of how the report cards are run?"
Mrs. Trees handed back the last report card and gave Sam a weary look. "The system shut down this morning when we first attempted to print the report cards. Then the whole system had to be restarted. The program usually takes an hour or so to generate, then another couple of hours to print."
"Who sorts them?" Sam asked.
Mrs. Trees shook her head. "No one. We can set the system to print the report cards according to any class period. When we had to reboot the system this morning, we requested the report cards print according to seventh period. The envelope labels print in the same manner."
Interesting. Sam shifted her iPhone so the microphone faced Mrs. Trees. "Are they checked before they're put into the envelopes?" The report card envelopes were just plain brown envelopes with the district's label and the student's name printed on them.
"The names are checked. Since we had to reboot and it took the system most of the day to regenerate the report cards and then print them all for nearly fifteen hundred students, we're lucky we had time to even do that." She frowned. "Sam, that's enough. I need to get back to work." Mrs. Trees turned away from the counter and headed down the hall to her office.
Excerpted from Samantha Sanderson Off the Record by Robin Caroll Miller. Copyright © 2015 Robin Caroll Miller. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERKIDZ.
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