While Towson High School principal Jane Barranger was in Washington Nov. 14 and 15 accepting the school's National Blue Ribbon Award, her school — and everything about it that made it worthy of the designation — kept building on its achievement of maintaining the school's excellence both in and out of the classroom.
Barranger wouldn't have it any other way.
"I'm very proud, very thankful, because it's validation that we're on the right track," Barranger said. "It certainly is an honor, but there's tomorrow.
"The stakes are higher and the expectations are greater. It certainly validates, but it's a challenge to maintain that high standard."
And when the principal refers to the standard that led to the school's blue ribbon award, she's referring to more than her students' 98-percent proficiency in math and 99-percent proficiency in English on the Maryland School Assesment tests.
Barranger recognizes that her students' growth and development outside the classroom are just as important as academic success in an environment that offers a wide array of opportunities.
"I think art, music, drama, athletics, robotics… you need a wide range for students to develop their creativity outside the classroom," Barranger said. "The goal is to have something for every student to be engaged in."
"Every single day, you have to work on that, and make sure students are engaged."
When schools are measured by standards outside of the classroom, its athletic programs are invariably the stick by which they're judged.
And just hours before their regional final win over C. Milton Wright Nov. 11, senior volleyball players Kelly Lacy and Emily Lansinger spoke of the relationship between classroom and athletic success.
"After practice, you have to get your work done," said Lansinger, whose Generals hope to claim a second consecutive state title Nov. 18. "I'm also more focused on getting better grades during the season."
Coach and alumnus Emily Berman said that the team, and athletics in general, brings the entire school together, whether students are playing, managing or supporting the team on the court.
Lacy and Lansinger said that the student body and administrators lend their support in every way.
"Our teachers always know when we have games and they'll wish us luck during class," she said. "It's good to hear that."
On Friday, Barringer, a frequent sight at many of the school's athletic contests, made the trip to Bel Air to watch the girls compete.
But just as the faculty and administrators are always present at the games, players are present and prepared for their classes, regardless of other commitments.
The day after the team's county championship win over archrival Dulaney High, two players had oral presentations in Joe Kimball's English class.
The match was not allowed to be used as an excuse to miss the assignment.
"They were ready to go," Kimball said. "I've been at schools where athletics were the motivating factor, but here, kids are really concerned about school as well."
As the volleyball players were on their way back to class on Friday afternoon, they exchanged well-wishes with a group of fellow students that are a long way away from courts and fields.
The theater kids, who had debuted their production of "Cyrano de Bergerac" the previous night, have a synergy with the athletes.
"People are supportive of each other here," senior Matthew Coplai said.
The three-night production, which ran Nov. 10-12, was an undertaking of which Coplai, fellow senior Jamaal McCray and junior Rachel Arnold are very proud.
"A lot of people thought high schoolers couldn't (put on a production of this scale)," Coplai said.
"I think we pulled it off," Arnold added.
For such a complicated production, the students have been working non-stop since auditions in mid-September, enriching an educational experience with what Arnold called her "favorite part of school."
When they aren't performing, Arnold, McCray, and Coplai formed a local chapter of the International Thespian Society, the theater honor society.
The society didn't exist at Towson until last year, but once the students decided to form a local chapter, the school was fully supportive.
"We did all the work to implement the club," Arnold said
Anyone who is interested can attend meetings, which are held every Tuesday, unless there's work needed on a production.
But the focus of the theater program, according to Kimball, director of "Cyrano de Bergerac," is as educational as it is artistic.
"That's another aspect of what we do here," Kimball said. "We're trying to do theater that's educationally relevant, so when kids come, they can say they saw high-level theater and learned something."
Still, it's clear that what makes the theater group special is the part that, to many kids, is the most important aspect of high school: the social scene.
The long hours required for rehearsals inevitably leads to long-lasting friendships, and allow the participants to establish an identity among peer groups and within the school.
"It's how you figure out who you are," Coplai said.
Although a strong theater program and top-flight sports teams are the trademark of any good school, it's the strength of Towson's lesser-known offerings that make the school what it is.
On Saturday, Nov. 19 at the Maryland State Fairgrounds, the school's robotics team will compete with representatives from many of the county's schools in the Baltimore County robotics competition.
The team is split up into three separate teams for the competition, which required them to build and program a robot that will put objects through a set of goalposts.
Two of the groups are still working on their entries, for which the group began brainstorming before the school year started.
All three groups anticipate being ready to represent the school this weekend.
And unlike many other students at Towson High, the robotics students see the school's Blue Ribbon distinction as a motivating factor for their performance.
In previous competitions, mental errors, such as forgetting to connect a battery has derailed their success, though the team still reached the semifinal round.
Expectations from being the county's only Blue Ribbon school, however, now make those mistakes unacceptable.
"I expect us to be better," senior Justin Garvin said, "so we have to live up to that."
Outside of the competition, the team members also realize the affect the Blue Ribbon can have on their academic futures.
"It's definitely going to have a big impact on whether colleges accept me or not," senior Mathew Ridge said.
What it means to students
Indeed, Barranger noted that at the school's recent college interview day, she found that many students listed the Blue Ribbon designation on their résumés.
While there are signs displaying the school's exalted status, some students don't need to be reminded.
"I've always loved Towson," McCray said. "Just to have something like this to put on the school, that means something."
Barranger agreed, and seemed to be struggling with the right amount of attention to give the status.
She said Towson, as a community, has never been boastful and takes success in stride.
Yet she also wants to make sure the school community realizes how great the accomplishment is.
"I think we just humbly accept it, and are grateful, but it's certainly not a time to rest on your laurels," Barranger said.