WINFIELD — Less than two years ago, Kelly Seal was about to fail her freshman year of high school and give up on her education for good.
But all that has changed, and now the South Carroll High rising junior selected by Gov. William Donald Schaefer as the most improved of the 235 Maryland's Tomorrow students in Carroll last year is determined to stayin school.
"My freshman year was a rough year for me. . . . I was almost failing everything," Kelly said.
"I wasn't sure if I wanted to stay in school or quit," she said. "I felt like the teachers didn't care, and it just didn't seem worth it to go to school."
The 16-year-old was recognized for her improvement in attendance, grades and attitudeby the state-funded Maryland's Tomorrow program, which focuses on identifying "at-risk" students and helping them complete high school.
"The Maryland's Tomorrow teacher at each high school works closely with administrators, teachers and parents to make sure the kids receive the support they need," said Peggy Kulow, a resource teacher for the Carroll school board who oversees the program for the county.
Kelly was earmarked in the eighth grade as being at-risk and was in the program the next year, but she struggled, said Sherry Pyles, the Maryland's Tomorrow resource teacher at South Carroll.
"I had asked Kelly when she was in eighth grade if she wanted to join, and she agreed," Pyles said. "But during her freshman year, she just wasn't coming to school and doing her work."
Kelly said she was fortunate that her parents, Gloria and Larry Seal of Eldersburg, her friends and Pyles encouraged her to stay in school after her freshman year.
Pyles said that she went to visit Kelly's parents after a student told her that Kelly planned to quit at the end of ninth grade.
"We established that Kelly would stay in school," Pyles said.
When Kelly returned to South Carroll the next fall as a sophomore, she began to see education in a different light.
"My sophomore year was different," Kelly recalled. "Teachers seemed to care more. They were on me allthe time to do my work and keep my grades up.
"I really started to get into the Maryland's Tomorrow program, and that really made a big difference."
Pyles kept close track of Kelly's progress, as she does with other students in the program.
"We work with them to complete the four years of high school. Then we track them for the first(year) after graduation to see if they need assistance in finding a job or furthering their education," she said.
"I guess I was really on Kelly last year," Pyles said. "I was asking her if she was doingher work and keeping her grades up."
The extra attention she received from Pyles and other teachers made a difference, Kelly said.
"I almost had straight A's the first marking period of my sophomore year," she said. "I was shocked. I knew I did it, and I knew I had to keep it up.
"It was really helpful that (biology teacher) Mrs. Coxcame to me every month to see if I was doing OK," Kelly said. "She would make sure that I was doing my work, getting good grades, coming to school and doing OK outside of school, too."
Kelly made a fantastic turnaround, Pyles said.
"She went from being shy and not doing very well in the academic arena to being in control of herself and very pleasant and cordial to her teachers," Pyles said. "She would even help me check on the other kids to make sure that they were doing their work and coming to school."
Kelly's parents say they are thrilled by their daughter's award and her academic success.
"I thinkit's great," her mother said. "Her dad is still smiling. We are bothvery proud.
"I remember Kelly's freshman year, when she would mope around and didn't want to go to school," she added. "She wouldn't do her homework, notes would be sent home all the time.
"We would offer help, but Kelly would refuse. When she started to work with the (Maryland's Tomorrow) program, all that changed.
"The next thing Iknew, she was having lunch with Governor Schaefer."
Kelly and students from other counties around the state were honored by Schaefer on May 21 at a luncheon in Towson. Kelly received two certificates of achievement from Maryland's Tomorrow and a $100 U.S. savings bond.
Even though Kelly will not be one of the 275 students in county Maryland's Tomorrow classes this year -- she said she has learned to study on her own -- she said she plans to meet with the group once a month.
"I'm going to try my best to keep it up," she said. "I'm prettyproud of what I have accomplished."
Kelly, an avid animal lover, with five cats, two dogs, rabbits, an assortment of fish and a hamster to prove it, said she hopes to study in college to become a zoologist.