Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin's passport is getting a workout.
While others might have opted for tropical vacation spots to spend their spring break, the leader of the Howard County school system went with a group to South Korea to establish sister schools and observe classrooms that excel academically.
"There is much that we can learn from them, there is much that they can learn from us," Cousin said.
Cousin was part of a 10-member group from the school system that included Diane Mikulis, chairman of the school board; Ellen Flynn Giles, a school board member; Bob Glascock, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction; Mamie J. Perkins, chief of staff; Carl Perkins, principal at Folly Quarter Middle School; and Young-chan Han, a specialist with the system's International Student and Family Outreach Office.
The school system paid their airfare, and the South Korean government picked up the rest of the tab for the six-day trip.
"We're extremely grateful to our gracious hosts," Cousin said. "We learned more about Korean culture and education."
"It was a very, very interesting trip," she said. "They treated us royally."
Cousin made a similar trip to China two years ago. As a result, he set up several sister-school programs that have resulted in student exchanges -- most recently a group of Chinese students visited Long Reach High School.
Korea was a likely destination for Cousin.
Koreans make up a majority of the school system's growing Asian population, which represents 15 percent of enrolled students, according to Cousin.
Howard County's reputation in Korea has grown through Web sites, newspaper articles and word of mouth.
While in Korea, group members visited three cities and a number of schools. "We had a full work schedule all the time we were there," Cousin said.
He noted that students in Korea spend more time in school than do students in the United States. Korean students attend school six days a week, 220 days a year, compared with American students, who attend class 180 days.
"Outside of the classroom, they have private tutors," Cousin said. "Typically their high school students have three to four hours of homework. They typically do it in the morning before they go to school."
Cousin said the longer hours in the classroom help Korean students to excel in math and science.
"They are intensely involved in school work," he said.
The interest in other schools is not one-sided. Last summer, 24 students from South Korea attended Patapsco Middle School for three weeks of classroom learning and field trips. The students, who lived with area Korean-American families, went through a competitive application process and paid several thousand dollars each to participate in the program.
"We have a lot to learn," Cousin said. "But they have a lot to learn, as well."
Fitness fair at Glenelg
"Childhood obesity" has become a buzz phrase this school year. Sodas are a thing of the past in most schools, and lunchroom menus include healthier choices.
Kate Broderick, 17, a senior at Glenelg Country School, is taking the issue one step further.
She is putting the finishing touches on plans for her school's first Middle School Fitness Challenge and Wellness Fair.
The event, which will be held at Glenelg Country School from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, is free and open to the public.
"Something should be done about this," Broderick said. "Children need to be informed. Parents need to be informed about healthy lifestyles and healthy living."
Middle school students are the perfect target audience for health lessons, Broderick said, because "the kids are more reachable."
Lifestyle behaviors are formed during the middle school years, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The event will feature fitness challenges such as obstacle courses, Nintendo Wii on a giant screen, and tests of strength.
Representatives of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield will present exhibits. Health screenings and demonstrations of yoga, martial arts and dance are planned, and a raffle for a mountain bike is to be held.
"They will forget that they are actually learning about a healthy lifestyles because they will be having fun doing the activities," Broderick said.
Broderick has recruited 30 volunteers to help with the fair. She expects several hundred people to attend, but she is not worried about the turnout.
"If only a handful of kids come, a handful will be affected," she said. "That's great."
A visit to Wall Street
Twenty-two members of Atholton High School's Future Business Leaders of America chapter went to New York City during their spring break.
Led by teachers Sean Griffin and Heather France-Kelly, the two-day tour included visits to Wall Street, the Time Warner/CNN publishing headquarters and the Nasdaq Stock Market's MarketSite. The group also was part of the studio audience for CNBC's Fast Money television show.
The group met with several top business executives, including Robert Greifeld, Nasdaq president and chief executive officer.