Students Don't Feel Honored By Award

National Society Rejected 2, Then Accepted Them

April 25, 1997|By Consella A. Lee | Consella A. Lee,SUN STAFF

In a ceremony with candles, flutes, piano music, and speeches, 22 North County High School students were inducted into the National Honor Society recently and presented with laminated certificates and little gold pins.

For decades the hallmark of high school high achievement, the ceremony is apt to be remembered by two of those students with something more like resentment than pride. For reasons not fully explained, they were initially rejected for membership. Only their complaints and parental intervention got them in.

Alexander Hicks, 18, didn't hear that until his 7: 17 a.m. advanced Spanish class the day before the March 25 induction ceremony when someone tapped him on the shoulder and passed him a piece of paper from the office saying that he'd been accepted into the society.

"I wanted to crumple the paper up and throw it," he said of his immediate reaction.

A 17-year-old honor-roll classmate with a 4.1 grade point average and acceptances from three colleges also was rejected at first and then accepted at the last minute before the ceremony. She has been so teased about her parents' campaign to get her into the honor society that she and her parents asked that her name not be used here.

"She just wants to spend her last three weeks in high school in peace," her father said.

The problems at North County High are not unique.

The National Honor Society was founded in 1921 to recognize students who excel in scholarship, leadership, service and character; membership was for only the best. But in recent years some students have been unwilling to accept rejection gracefully, and their parents have backed them with lawsuits.

Several years ago in New York, the parents of a Yorktown High School boy filed a $2 million suit against his principal and the school system when their son was rejected for membership. They lost.

But society officials in Reston, Va., say some attention is being paid to whether schools -- which decide who gets inducted -- are using standards of leadership, service and character that are too subjective in screening students.

Some schools have even dropped out of the society, preferring to honor students with high marks in other ways.

In North County, Hicks plays lacrosse and football and is used to going up against jocks, not school administrators. Still, he told his angry father let him deal alone with being rejected by the society.

Hicks said honor society adviser Barbara Pattillo told him that his points on the honor society checklist were too low and that he was not taking enough college prep or advanced classes.

He is taking advanced physics and geometry and has a 3.61 grade point average.

He hopes to become a doctor and, while he was offered a $7,000 scholarship to Western Maryland University, he expects to attend the University of Maryland at Baltimore County.

All that Principal Patricia Gronkiewicz will say is that she can't "go into great detail" about what happened "because of the confidentiality of the selection process."

She refused to let a reporter interview Pattillo because her schedule for the coming weeks would not allow her to be present for the interview.

"To our knowledge we do not perceive that there is a problem here," Gronkiewicz said.

But as a result of the fuss, she said, parents now will be required to sign and date their child's honor society materials before they are turned in.

The girl's father said that when he asked why his daughter was rejected, no one would tell him. When he threatened to go to the Board of Education in Annapolis, administrators finally talked.

"I still don't buy the reason that they gave me," he said. "They told me that my daughter failed to complete the application. But they never showed me a copy of the application. They told me it was shredded."

"I know it's a privilege to be in the National Honor Society, not a right. But somewhere along the line someone should tell you why someone is not accepted," he said.

When he and his wife met with administrators, they were told "they were sorry there was some misunderstanding," the girl's father said.

Pub Date: 4/25/97

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