UNIONTOWN — Junior and senior football, basketball and baseball players are huddled around a table where yarn, stuffing and assorted colored socks have been spread like some sort of game plan.
The Varsity Club at Francis Scott Key High School is not practicing maneuvers for an upcoming game but performing community service. Members are making "study buddies" for disadvantaged youth in Baltimore.
On this particular day, much of the junior and senior classes at Key are doing similar community-service deeds: making holiday decorations for Carroll Lutheran Village, writing letters to pen pals and stuffing envelopes for local charities.
The state Board of Educationenvisions secondary students performing community service work -- 75hours' worth -- to graduate from high school.
Carroll students, it seems, have had little to say -- at least publicly -- on the controversial issue, which has been debated by educators, teachers and students across the state.
The Carroll school board gave the measure the thumbs-down, arguing that local schools should be responsible for providing voluntary student-service programs.
So a recent Horatio Alger Youth Seminar at FSK -- where two students, Adele Mowers and Eleni Koutsouradis, were recognized for outstanding community service and academics -- seemed a likely time to pose the question.
A groupof boys stuffing socks -- future study buddies -- in the school auditorium greeted the question nonchalantly.
"Why not help the community if you can?" said John Engel, 16, a junior from Taneytown.
"The community needs help. I have no problem with (the state proposal) as long as you were able to do something to help your own community."
Another junior, Steve Hoare, also from Taneytown, agreed.
"We're the future," the 16-year-old said. "Why not make a good impression for everybody else coming into high school?"
There is no dissent among the workers at this community service project. Their mood is jovial. Although there is plenty of joking as the buddies take shape -- "This one looks like Fat Albert," one student muses -- their mission is serious.
"I think it's a pretty good idea," said Jeff Fink, 16,a junior. "I think everybody should take part in the community. Whenever something comes up, like a canned-food drive, most of us take part."
He said other school organizations have been as active as theVarsity Club. Beside the canned-food drives for the poor, there havebeen money and gift collections for a Secret Santa, who delivers toys to needy families in the area.
"Everybody helps out," the Taneytown resident said.
Chris White, 17, of Keymar added, "I think it'sa good idea, too. We do it anyway. I have no problem with it as longas it's after school."
White, a junior, disagreed with students and educators who testified to a state board in October that service programs would create transportation and other problems for school systems.
"Someone can always give you a ride home," he said.
ChrisBach, vice president of the senior class, appears to be in the minority of the 750-member student body, of which about 75 percent participate regularly in community service projects.
"I don't think it's necessary," the 17-year-old senior said. "If you look at Francis Scott Key as an example, we do it out of our own hearts. To make it a requirement is not necessary."
Like others, Bach, a Union Bridge resident, said she feels good about helping out with food drives and other community service activities. The senior class is making and decorating folders of school supplies for a companion school in Baltimore.
Making community service a requirement, she said, might take some of the enthusiasm out of it for students.
"I think it would take some of that heart away," she said. "Here you just become involved. You don't even think about it as community service."
If the community-service requirement is approved by the state, Maryland would becomethe only state in the nation to require students to perform service as a requirement to earn a high school diploma.
Currently, about 2,000 students throughout Maryland participate in service projects forhigh school credit. The projects enable them to learn by helping others and by engaging in real-life problem-solving in the community -- as a complement to classroom learning.
Under the proposed state plan, the volunteer assignment also would require some classroom learning. Students would prepare themselves for the community service assignment beforehand and then reflect on the significance of their contribution afterward.
Every Carroll secondary school has a student-service program in operation, from collecting coats for children to fooddrives. Westminster High students can take community service as a semester elective.
Some students don't support the state proposal. "I really don't agree with it," said Mike Glass, 16, who was making cookies for a Taneytown soup kitchen. "Here at Key, we don't have a problem getting involved with community service. It might be a problem at some schools."
Art Harris, who was helping Glass make chocolate-chip cookies, said he also doesn't believe such a program is necessary.
"I agree with the fact of doing something to help others," saidthe 16-year-old junior from Union Bridge. "There's enough volunteershere that it's not needed to make it a requirement."