Catching teens while they're being good

Rewards: At a surprise assembly, North Carroll High School honors 507 students who simply do the right things.

April 24, 2002|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Many of their names will not be found on honor rolls. They're not among the star athletes who have gleaming trophies in the school's display cases. And few of their pictures will ever hang outside the main office in the Student of the Month showcase.

But those were the very kids who North Carroll High School pulled out of class yesterday - 507 of them - for a surprise assembly to recognize them just for being good kids.

They're the ones who have missed no more than four days of school in the first seven months of the year. They have not been sent to the office for fighting or smoking or even for being late. And they're passing all their classes.

As a reward, 21 Hampstead businesses donated coupons - from free cheeseburgers, Internet access and watch batteries to discounted gasoline, prom corsages and haircuts - for having done all the right things.

"In a school of this size, you lose track of how many kids fall into that category," said Gary Dunkleberger, principal of the 1,520-student school. "Last year, we had 640-some and I was knocked over by that number. I was really taken aback.

"In life, very few of us do everything perfect. And those kids who have done exactly what we've asked are not recognized for what they have done."

No official data track how many schools have offered such programs in recent years. But state education officials say that anecdotally, they seem to be on the rise.

Whether it's bumper stickers for parents proud that their "great kid" goes to a certain school (rather than the old reliance on honor roll bragging rights) or student-of-the-month awards for doing chores around the school, more and more educators see the importance of recognizing students beyond the straight-A achievers.

"Other schools do honor students for various things - a lot is grade-related or attendance-related - but this seemed to put it all together," Gregory Eckles, Carroll's director of high schools, said of North Carroll's program. "But I haven't heard of anything this extensive."

The mystery began yesterday morning about 10:15 when Dunkleberger, on the intercom, asked teachers to send certain students to the auditorium - immediately.

Some wondered whether they were in trouble.

Others joked upon hearing their names called that it must be for the best or coolest or best-looking kids in the school.

"Well, think about it," English teacher Tom Scanlan teased one boy in his class. "If it was just for the best kids, do you really think you'd be going?"

In the auditorium, it was clear that kids had been tipped off about the purpose of the hush-hush assembly.

`I'm a good kid'

Take Megan Miller, a mostly A's and B's student whose favorite thing about school is hanging out with friends. The 14-year-old freshman was cheering and celebrating her inclusion.

"I'm a good kid. I'm a good kid. I told my mom I was a good kid," she said, throwing her arms in the air. Asked to elaborate upon the definition of "good kid," Megan said, "We come to school and don't get in trouble."

Kevin Pratt, 17, a junior filmmaker who has produced Plastic Toy Guns, was more skeptical.

"Is this some kind of a setup?" he asked. "Are you planning to get rid of us? Why are only some people coming?"

Megan rolled her eyes: "Because they're not all good kids."

A spectrum

The honorees included a wide range of students.

Ryan Flynn is a 19-year-old senior whose high school career has not been peppered with honors and awards ceremonies.

"I do all right. I get by," he said, explaining that he averages mostly B's on his report card and plans to take classes next year at Carroll Community College. "I think it's a good idea to reward kids for doing well because it motivates us. It's nice to be associated with such a nice group of kids."

At the other end of the spectrum is Cara Lewis, a 16-year- old junior who golfs, is a member of the National Honor Society and takes a no-nonsense approach to school. With a 5.0 weighted grade point average on a 4.0 scale - meaning she has gotten straight A's in tough classes - it was no surprise that she was included in the assembly. But she was no less pleased at its existence.

"I'm happy that finally good kids are getting rewarded rather than delinquents who get rewarded for the most minute accomplishments, like getting along well with their parole officer," Cara said. "But I think it should be a little bit more strict than just passing your classes."

This is a girl who was mildly bummed that she was pulled out of Chemistry II for the assembly "because I really can't get behind in Chem II."

Her friend, Meghan Leidy, who is taking an independent-study class on historical fiction, waved a thick copy of Alex Haley's Roots, explaining that she read through the assembly "because I really need to get through this."

For Sharon Callahan, immediate past president of the Hampstead Business Association, rounding up support for Dunkleberger's assembly was an irresistible opportunity.

"Children who get into trouble get all this publicity while the good kids who show up every day, who are working hard and don't get into trouble, don't get as much attention," said Callahan, office manager at Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Hampstead. "This type of thing works all the time in the workplace. Thank-you is such a little word, but how many times do we as grown adults forget to use it with children?"

Dunkleberger received validation that he had done the right thing initiating the recognition ceremony last year after the first assembly.

"I was coming down the hall when I heard one kid say to another, `Were you one of the good kids?'" he recalled. "To me, that was just great. That's what it's all about."

By lunchtime yesterday, nearly all of North Carroll High was buzzing about the school's good kids.

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