The yellow school buses carrying somber students rumbled past Army guards dressed in military fatigues, M-16 automatic weapons draped across their shoulders yesterday.
At Meade High yesterday, nothing was being taken for granted.
Inside the school, teachers and guidance counselors attempted to address the questions, thoughts and feelings of students. Class schedules meant little yesterday, as discussions throughout the day centered on what some described as "history unfolding."
"We tried to have as ordinary a day as possible," Meade Assistant Principal Kenneth Hook said. "We had more students reporting to the media center to watch the newscasts. We have an ongoing situation for counseling because of being located on a military base and knowing many of their parentsare involved."
At Severna Park High, students began their day with a message from Principal Oliver Wittig, who asked them to send their best wishes and prayers to the troops. Small groups of students trickled to the office requesting permission to begin letter-writing, signature and yellow-ribbon campaigns.
"I expected that today kids would be in a state of shock," Wittig said. "It's the biggest thing that's ever happened in their life. They are internalizing what they heard on television. They feel helpless and want to do something."
But in class, the topic of war in the Persian Gulf was unavoidable.
School corridors were quiet as even homemaking and art teachers rolled in portable television sets to hear updates on Operation Desert Storm.
Bob Jervis, the county coordinator of social studies, found himself in the classroom at Severna Park while classroom teacher BarryMiller attended a workshop. The world history class lesson plan called for studying Napoleon III, but Jervis pushed it aside to discuss U.S. attacks to force Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.
"I decided that because of the urgency of the situation, we should be talking about itin social studies," he said. "We took a systematic approach and separated fact from fiction, and specifically where do we go from here.
"Students seemed to be on the fence. Some wanted to get it over with, while others thought we should pull back and give them a chance toback out. In general, there was a feeling that we should do whateveris needed to keep down the number of casualties.
Meghan Whiteside, a fifth-grader at Linthicum Elementary, said the soldiers are in her prayers.
"It makes me sad," the 10-year-old said. "I feel we should just have peace on Earth without any fighting at all. We should just talk it out and solve it that way."
Fred Johnson, a senior at Glen Burnie High, said he did not support President Bush's decision.
"I'm totally against the war," the 18-year-old said. "We should not be fighting for lower gas prices. Now that it's started, we should get it finished as soon as possible."
Opinions on the war in Iraq are as diverse as the information coming in from the battlefields. Seventh-graders in Jo Beth Hebrank's social studies classes at St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic School in Severna Park said President Bush made the right decision.
"We couldn't negotiate with Iraq because of the type of leader Saddam Hussein is," Marc LaChapelle said."I doubt he was ever going to pull out."
"I knew we would have war," Amy Sledgeski said, "but I was not prepared for it."
"This is history," Hebrank told her class. "You are living history right now. Your grandchildren will study this in their history books. You are witnessing a turning point in the world."
Most students said they were not surprised but were nervous about war's consequences. They weren't shy about sharing their opinions in class, and talk never wavered from the subject of war.
"I didn't think we would act as soon as the deadline was up because Saddam would be expecting that," Adam Paul said.
"It seems any option we would give him he would reject," Hannah McFarland said. "I think he really wanted to fight us."
Saddam "doesn't really care about whether he wins or loses," Gene Kilcourse said. "If he loses, he dies and becomes a martyr. If he wins, he lives and becomes a hero."
Some, such as Ronnie Bolnicki, had a personal stake in the war: Bolnicki's brother is a communications specialist stationed in the Saudi desert.