Chris Messineo joined the Outreach program at South River High School in Edgewater almost on a whim.
Social studies teacher Shelley Finkelstein, who is the school's community service adviser, talked to Chris about the program that provides students from nearby Central Special School with buddies. The students at Central Special are mentally retarded and often need assistance as they are mainstreamed, or integrated into the high school.
So, thinking "it would be fun," Chris and a friend joined the program. Then, the friend dropped out.
"I started having second thoughts," Chris said. "I thought I was going to have somebody who wouldn't be able to walk, or would always be there [underfoot]. But the student I help is real fun to be with. We have a lot of fun together."
Chris, 17, a senior, is just one of the more than 300 South River High students who signed up to participate in the school's Community Service Project.
The project, which started at South River three years ago, is not required. However, it is similar to the type of community service that members of the state Board of Education would like to see as a requirement for high school graduation.
Programs like the Community Service Project could be eliminated if the Anne Arundel Board of Education decides to drop funds for staffing extracurricular activities.
County school employees must decide by Nov. 5 whether to accept a 3 percent pay cut, a five-day furlough, or layoffs as a method of trimming $5.1 million from the budget. Some teachers have said that if they are forced to take a pay cut, they will not put in the extra hours for after-school activities.
County Executive Robert R. Neall last week announced a $20.8 million budget-reduction plan for all county employees that allows them to decide where and how cuts are to come.
The action results from a bill signed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer on Oct. 18 that slashed $68 million in state aid to local governments. An amendment proposed by Neall gave county governments power to cut current school budgets.
In recent weeks, concern over how budget cuts might affect school services has prompted student walkouts at several coun
ty high schools as well as a rally in Annapolis of nearly 2,000 protesters made up of educators, parents and students.
At the walkout at Chesapeake High School in Pasadena, about a half-dozen students said they were protesting what they perceived as a threat to their college futures. Sports is one after-school activity that could be affected.
"We've been playing baseball for 12 years, since we were 5," said Kenny Moore, referring to himself and his twin brother, Eddie. "We're looking to get baseball scholarships."
"But if nobody sees us, then we can't get scholarships," Eddie said.
Jennifer Wiswall, 17, is student government president at South River and a volunteer with the high school's Big Brother/Big Sister program for students at Edgewater Elementary School. She was invited, along with several other protest organizers, to speak to Neall. Jennifer said she wanted to emphasize that cutting extracurricular activities would hurt education.
"Learning in school goes well beyond the classroom," Jennifer said. "Everything you learn in school is not just copying things from the board. We learn from working with each other."
Finkelstein said extracurricular programs like the community service project have made a difference at South River, which has 1,000 students. There is a renewed feeling of school spirit. Students look forward to coming to school, she said.
"We think our school has been transformed," Finkelstein said. "It's a different place. There was such apathy. Now, we've got so many people involved we don't have enough organizations for them."
Students also volunteer their services at the Pleasant Living Convalescent Center, the Special Olympics and the county state's attorney's office.
The Unity Club, which falls under the auspices of the volunteer program, seeks to address the needs of the school's minority population as well as providing food and clothing to the poor.
Students also have adopted families during the holidays, providing them with meals and gifts. This Thanksgiving students plan to serve dinner to the homeless at nearby Camp Letts in Mayo.
"Although we think what we're doing is really important, there are just as many other organizations like the drama club or sports that provide a needed service for students," Finkelstein said.
"When we talk about extracurricular activities, well, I don't look at it as extra. This is a really important part of learning. We're finding that kids who are involved in after-school activities do better in school," she added.
Kim Henry, 17, a senior, said she has gained a lot of confidence since she began volunteering with the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Advocacy Program, or Chessie, as it is more commonly known. Students in the program provide environmental lessons to elementary school students.
"I never could have gotten up to speak in front of all those students," Kim said. "I've gained a lot of confidence, and I've been able to help in saving the bay."
Finkelstein said the extracurricular activities are far-reaching in that they have helped the students to grow.
"These definitely are our future leaders," she said.