WESTMINSTER - Sam Leppo II learned something when he staged a rock-a-thon last spring that raised nearly $1,000 for the local chapter of the American Cancer Society.
He learned he enjoyed helping people.
"I think that helping others gives you a feeling of self-satisfaction," said the Union Bridge 16-year-old, who is the son of Westminster Police Chief Sam Leppo. "It not only helps you to understand yourself, but also to understand a larger number of other people."
For many students, volunteering to help others has become as much a part of high school life as football games, clubs and dances.
By reflecting on his activism, Leppo, a junior at Francis Scott Key High School, has achieved one of the goals of the Carroll school system's broad community service program.
"Service and learning are one and the same," said Maggie O'Neill, assistant director of the Maryland Student Service Alliance, which helped Carroll develop its program. "We're interested in not only getting kids to help out but to reflect on what they've learned."
Reflecting often spills over into the classroom, where students write about or discuss their experiences after reading related stories.
"We want to stimulate them," O'Neill said. "What difference does it make in a society when people help one another? There's so much potential. Every kid could get something out of it."
This year marks Carroll's third year in the community service program.
Each of the system's high schools, middle schools and its vocational-technical school are involved in a variety of programs aimed at helping people, cleaning the environment or entertaining the invalid.
"Some are doing little, while others are really taking the ball and running," said Peter B. McDowell, Carroll's director of secondary schools, who coordinates the system's community service program. "Not everybody has to march to the beat of the same drummer."
Vo-tech students last year sang Christmas carols to Carroll County General Hospital patients and Westminster Nursing Home residents. Members of the South Carroll High School Science Club planted trees to protect Piney Run stream.
Students have staged bowl-a-thons and jump-rope-a-thons, coordinated aluminum can and paper recycling drives, collected food, clothing and blankets for the needy and victims of natural disasters here and abroad.
"Carroll County has one of the best community service programs going that I've ever seen," O'Neill said. "They're doing phenomenal things."
Many students often participate in more than one community service project because of their involvement in several school organizations, said Betty Davis, a South Carroll High School guidance counselor who coordinates an organization there called Students Helping Other People.
"A lot of these kids do a lot of different things," she said, noting her group coordinated a blanket drive for California earthquake victims last fall and helped the Science Club sell Earth Day T-shirts last spring.
Marcy Glanville, a South Carroll High School senior, said she joined SHOP because she enjoys helping people.
One of that group's first tasks this year is to pass out yellow ribbons to remind people of the American soldiers stationed in the Middle East.
"We have a small Peace Corps-type of thing going, and we're trying to do things to make people more aware of what's going on over there," the 16-year-old Sykesville resident said.
Volunteering is a particularly effective tool for raising the self-esteem of not only high school students but also middle school students, who educators say often have difficulty adapting to the emotional and physical changes during the transition from elementary school to high school.
"It improves their self-image," said Frances Kasher, a Sykesville Middle School special education teacher who coordinates the schools' community service program. "I think they can begin to feel more a part of the community. They need to feel that they're worthwhile and that their contributions are important. This is one way of letting them feel that."
Boosting student self-image also was a factor in the growth of community service programs at Francis Scott Key High School.
The program there developed out of the English department's cooperative learning program, in which students worked as teams instead of as individuals in an effort to mirror the real world.
"Students learned to work together, but there was something missing," said Rosalie Gardner, a Francis Scott Key High School English teacher.
"What was missing was a feeling of belonging. We wanted to raise their self-esteem and thought community service would be a good way to do that."
Since then, community service has become a way of life, and groups have had no problem recruiting students for countless projects.
"It's hard to describe," Gardner said. "The whole school is involved.
There's this infusion into all areas of the school. None of it is mandatory. It is just a way students and teachers have begun to think. When we plan now, we ask, 'What community services things are we going to do this year?' " For Kelly Owens, a Francis Scott Key High School senior, volunteering her time with the handicapped in classrooms and at the riding stable the past few years has better prepared her for a planned career in special education.
"I just love it," said the 17-year-old New Windsor resident. "There's definitely a great deal of satisfaction. And I've learned a lot about handicapped kids and the kinds of options for careers in special education."