Slaying dragons isn't easy when you don't have a sword.

But Jack Pool and Kris Osward are riding gallantly into classrooms around Tuolumne County and teaching underachieving students where to find their "personal weapons" and how to use them.

Pool, the director of Columbine Counseling in Twain Harte, has been developing the Hero Program since he did research in graduate school on using Aztec hero mythology as a teaching tool.

The program which Osward and Pool have offered at Soulsbyville, Twain Harte Middle and Sonora schools uses a mixture of art, song, movie analyses and therapy to bring kids out of their shells and help them achieve at higher levels.

Many of the kids have difficult family situations and haven't been high achievers in school.

"These are kids who have encountered difficulties in a traditional education setting, but it never was about lack of intelligence," Pool said. He said 13- and 14-year-olds might face more stress than adults, but they lack the skills to cope.

At the end of each program, Columbine Publications part of the Twain Harte counseling business prints a book filled with students' art, poetry and observations.

Each student receives a copy of the book and the class holds a signing party, like the one Soulsbyville seventh and eighth graders attended Thursday.

"This has been so good for the kids," said Soulsbyville teacher Nancy Morton, handing a signed book back to a student. "They were really excited to have a book."

Pool and Osward visited Morton's class dubbed the Morton Salts three times a week for two months. During a session, the classroom is established as a safe place, where criticism and sarcasm are not allowed.

"Someone can only be completely creative in a safe environment," said Osward, Columbine's artist-in-residence, who led students through art and music exercises.

"I was amazed at their insight," Osward said. "What (the program) turned out to be was a wonderful window for life through the eyes of a 13-year-old," Osward said.