Each year at Mt. Hebron High School, seniors designate two peers they believe will become a teacher at their alma mater.
As Mt. Hebron celebrates its 50th anniversary, seniors credit their teachers — many of whom are Hebron alumni — for creating the school culture that entices graduates to come back and volunteer or teach.
"I love that we have so many teachers that are here that went to school here because they can share much more of that devotion and drive that they cultivated when they were here as students," said senior Alia Abdelkader.
Mt. Hebron opened in 1965 as a junior high school before it became a high school in 1967 with James McCrumb as its first principal after the opening of Patapsco Middle School. The school underwent a major renovation, completed in 2011, which included a new music area and updated classrooms and hallways.
This year's seniors will be Mt. Hebron's 44th graduating class.
To celebrate the school's 50th birthday, all seniors will wear metallic gold caps and gowns at graduation — typically at graduation girls would wear white gowns and boys would wear black. Earlier this year, the school's annual Homecoming celebration featured many of the principals who have led the school since its opening.
There appears to be something about Mt. Hebron that keeps pulling alumni back. And it's not just to volunteer or support the school's athletic teams and performing arts programs. Mt. Hebron grads return to spend their teaching career at the Ellicott City high school.
Twenty-five of the school's staff members are Mt. Hebron graduates, including Principal Scott Ruehl, class of 1987.
Ruehl did his student teaching at Mt. Hebron before being hired full-time and advancing to a vice principal and now principal.
Ruehl said students returning to Mt. Hebron as teachers has become part of the school's culture.
"People want to come back and still be a part of this when they become teachers," he said.
Val Salvato may have been the start of the trend.
A member of the school's first graduating class in 1971, Salvato returned to Mt. Hebron after graduating from Frostburg State University and taught health and physical education at the school from 1976 to 2013.
Now living in Florida, Salvato said it's hard to describe what brings back graduates to teach at the school.
"It's just a special place ... a special family that we have there," she said.
The Howard County Public School System doesn't track how many graduates are employed at a school they attended, only the number of graduates hired each year by the school system.
In the past three years, 217 Howard County graduates have returned to teach in Howard's 76 schools.
Ann Johnston, class of 1972 and a teacher at the school for 36 years, both as a substitute and full-time, is now on staff with her daughter, Erin, a paraeducator.
"It's a place where people care about each other. It's a family, really," Johnston said of the school community. "Through good times, through bad times, you can count on the people who work there being there for you."
Johnston and her daughter aren't the only family connection at Mt. Hebron.
Brothers Mike and Tommy Tittsworth are both coaches and staff members.
"There's this rich desire to give back to the community and to the school," said Mike, a member of the class of 1995.
For Tommy, a 2000 graduate, it's not odd to be a colleague of someone who taught him in the classroom.
In fact, he said he's still learning from his teachers. Now, they're not teaching him how to do math, but how to become a better teacher.
"I always call them by Mr. or Mrs.," Tommy said. "I still see myself as the subordinate, naturally, and they find it funny."