Havre de Grace High School looks like an old factory, red-bricked, squat and rather dull.
Inside, though, it's like opening day at theWorld Series.
And with good reason. About a week from now, the school could be named one of the best high schools in the nation as part of the national Secondary School Recognition Program.
Havre de Grace High already has been chosen as one of eight Maryland schools to be nominated as one of the country's best in the national Secondary School Recognition Program.
It's an honor everyone -- from administrators to freshmen -- insists the school deserves.
"It's a good place to be. Better than most places," says sophomore Kenny Clark.
"There are lots of activities, and the teachers help you a lot, too."
"It's clean. It's not as crowded. People are nice. We should win," says senior Shanda Matthews.
Assistant Principal Agnes Purnell's reason for thinking the school will be named a national school of excellence: She feels it in her bones.
But she also has a fat packet of papers on her desk, detailing special programs, such as a 100-member student volunteer program the school has started, improved Student Achievement Test (SAT) scores and attendance rates.
"We're not using any excuses why kids can't compete," says Purnell. "We don't care where the students come from, how much money their family has or anything else."
Purnell and a staff of about 60 full-time teachers bring this determination with them every day.
"We have lots of programs because we aim to meet the needs of
students," she says. "The needs are varied, and therefore the solutions are varied. Teachers work smarter here, we think, but they also work harder.
"We come in early, stay late and go home tired, but we feel good all the time. We see what we're doing in the lives of children, and ultimately the lives of the community. Everybody wins."
American flags flutter overhead at Perry Point Veteran's Hospital. A late-day sun glows over the Susquehanna River. But Michelle Holly, a Havre de Grace senior, is consciousonly of the smile on an elderly man's face.
"These are people whousually stay locked up inside. It makes you feel good to see them happy," says Michelle, who visits hospital patients as part of a schoolcommunity outreach program called SMILES.
SMILES, which stands for "Service Makes an Individual's Life Extra Special," is one of the programs which has drawn the high school recognition and a chance in the national spotlight.
English teacher Don Osman started the volunteer student program seven years ago with six students.
This year,108 students of the 500-member student body are involved with SMILES.
"It's just amazing what the kids will do. They don't necessarilywant rewards for it," says Osman, proudly displaying pictures of students working as nurse's aides at Harford Memorial Hospital, taking food to shut-ins and visiting nursing homes.
A bulletin board in the school lobby holds honors awarded the school's SMILES volunteers: finalists in an IBM contest, thank-you's from the Salvation Army, 1990winners of a governor's award for work with the handicapped, elderlyand poor.
Says Regan Stout, a ninth-grader active in SMILES, "What else are you gonna do? Sit home, when you can be out helping people?"
Angie Waldon, 18, has worked with many SMILES events, from the Special Olympics to surplus food distribution for the needy through the federal food program.
"We don't just think 'myself, myself' around here," she says. The proof: A Thanksgiving dinner for the area's needy and a Christmas shopping tour for underprivileged children which SMILES sponsored last year.
On Thanksgiving Day, SMILES volunteers delivered 75 meals to local senior citizens. "The kids gave up their Thanksgiving Day for that," says Osman.
And at Christmas, with the help of the local variety store, they brought back goods and gavevisiting children $10 each to buy a present for their family membersat a "store" set up in the high school.
This month, the students are conducting a free prom for senior citizens, complete with a $1,300 orchestra and a buffet of Italian food, steamed shrimp and chicken.SMILES had an antique car show to raise the money.
"Our goal is to have every kid in the school involved in community service," says Osman.
But while community activism can teach students to be unselfish, it can't address the myriad problems today's students bring withthem to school, Purnell acknowledges.
So other programs at the high school have been established to address some of those woes, such as the roots of racism or the results of broken families. For example,a program called Gender Ethnic Sensitivity Awareness educates teachers to be aware of how they perpetuate biases, by, for example, calling on particular students in class more often than others.
Another national teacher-student program, Care Pair Share, encourages teachers to serve as advocates for students having a tough time with school work -- to watch over them, help them out, encourage them.