WARSAW, Ind. (AP) – Scott Greene leaps to spike the volleyball but holds back, letting it drop on his side of the net. “Scott!” a teammate yells, exasperated. “That’s the second time,” another chides.

It’s a typical scene repeated in high schools across the country: A student makes a mistake, is embarrassed and hears from classmates. But Greene is no typical student. The 33-year-old youth minister has returned to school for two weeks to get a glimpse of the pressures facing teenagers.

“I wanted to come in and take the temperature of the high school and give students a forum to express their concerns,” he said. “I wanted to come in and feel the pressures that students feel.”

Greene, who works at Warsaw Community Church in this community about 50 miles southeast of South Bend, is taking classes, eating lunch and hanging out with students in the hallway.

He plans to share his observations with school administrators and parents – including a survey on his blog – and use what he learns to improve how he deals with teenagers in his church work.

The 2,000-student school already allows youth pastors to talk with students at lunch. Principal Jennifer Brumfield said the project was a chance to get another view of the stresses students are under.

“We thought it would be a good idea to have an independent source come in and do a climate survey of what’s working and what’s not,” she said.

Greene has found the going tougher than expected.

He left his algebra assignment at home on his kitchen table. He was late for English class one day because he left his project in his locker and had to go back to get it.

Another day, he stumbled when reading a poem about himself.

He meant to say his real name was Thomas and that he goes by his middle name, but instead he read that his real name is Scott.

“Wait. I read that wrong,” he said to the laughter of the class.

Another awkward moment came when he exited the lunch line one day and hesitated, looking for a familiar face to sit with. After a moment, a group of girls called him over.

“I had that sinking feeling of not knowing anybody,” he said.

But those challenges pale in comparison to what some students have shared while he’s been with them.

Warsaw is a community of about 12,400, where farming and two large orthopedics companies provide many of the jobs. Yet 15 percent of the students participating in Greene’s blog survey said their families depend on income they receive from after-school jobs.

“That didn’t happen when I was at school,” he said.

Most disturbing, though, was that about 30 percent of the students said they had experienced a sense of hopelessness in the past week. “That just breaks my heart,” Greene said.

Brumfield hopes the project enables guidance counselors to help parents work with their children in ways that aren’t confrontational. She also would like to use it to develop ways for students to vent frustrations.

Students are not sure Greene’s two-week experience is enough to bring about change.

“I think he can get the idea of what high school is like, but I don’t think he can have the same experience we’re having,” said freshman Sena Muta.

Classmate Kayla Yates agreed.

“I don’t think anyone’s going to tell him everything,” she said.

Greene, who finishes class Wednesday to return to adult life – which includes a wife, a 3-year-old and another baby due in May – said the experience has changed his perspective.

“I’m much more empathetic toward kids,” he said. “I see how tough it is for them.”

He hopes other youth ministers take on similar projects.

“Every school in the country needs some third-person perspective,” he said. “Not every administrator wants that. But every school in the country needs it.”

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AP-ES-03-11-06 0328EST

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