Every day, students at Towson High School walk in past a big yellow sign that says the school is a "drug-free" zone. When they go to the front office, they trek across a huge floor mat that urges them to "say no to drugs and alcohol."
But the students, teachers and administrators don't think their school is free of drugs and alcohol. That's just the goal.
"There is no high school in America that is free of drugs and alcohol," said Samantha Lane, a 17-year-old Towson junior.
But because of its commitment to the goal, Towson is being honored today at the White House as one of 56 schools nationwide chosen as a model for others to follow.
This is the first time a Maryland school has won the annual award.
Towson's drug and alcohol policy is simple. If students want help, they can get counseling. But if they are caught using drugs or drinking on the grounds or at a school-sponsored event, they are expelled.
That's been the policy for the past 13 years, not only at Towson High but also at all schools in Baltimore County, said Andrew Dotterweich, Towson's principal.
Students can get back into school after two marking periods if they furnish proof that they received therapy for drug and/or alcohol abuse.
And the policy appears to be working. This year only one student was expelled, and last year there were no expulsions. That is down from six in 1987-88 and 11 in 1988-89. The goal at Towson is to prevent drug and alcohol abuse through education.
And the programs get students involved, instead of simply having teachers drill the anti-drug and -alcohol messages into students' heads.
Students are turned off when teachers just start "preaching" at them, said Patti Sengenbuch, who coordinates the drug and alcohol program.
"We try to approach the kids and tell them the signs of people who have a problem, and not say, 'You have a problem,' " she said.
One example of Towson's approach is The Kids on the Block program.
It involves Towson students using life-size puppets to present skits about the consequences of drug and alcohol abuse to county elementary school students.
"We try to teach kids that drugs aren't the answer," said Samantha Lane, who participates as a puppeteer. "We're doing what we can to stop [drug and alcohol abuse]."
Counselors go along to answer any questions elementary students have about the message, Mr. Dotterweich said.
Teachers and administrators say alcohol is the main problem at Towson.
"Alcohol is socially acceptable and is seen as a safe drug," Mrs. Sengenbuch said.
Another problem is that Towson State University, and its fraternity house, are just across the street. Many high school students have friends at Towson State who invite them to parties where alcohol is served, she said.
But Towson High students are tackling that problem with such programs as Students Against Drunk Driving. The president of the school's SADD chapter said the programs are catching students' attention.
"A lot of people have started to notice us. People are wearing SADD pins and talking about who's going to be the designated driver," said Lisa Greenhouse, a 17-year-old junior.
But she admits that not all students admire her for what she is trying to do. "Some people think that we're completely ridiculous, and that we're geeks and nerds that are boring," she said.
But Christy Shaneor, a 16-year-old junior in the Kids on the Block program, said a lot of her friends are supportive. "They think it's a good program and it's neat that we're trying to help the elementary school students," she said.
Towson students are also active in community programs, Mr. Dotterweich said. Students were involved in 39 different community service projects this school year, ranging from a blood drive to a senior citizens prom.
Being involved in such activities tends to build self-esteem, he said, noting that "kids who have poor self-esteem are more likely to drink and use drugs."
"We're not saying that all of our kids are alcohol- and drug-free," Dr. Dotterweich said, "but we're continuing to educate them not to do it."
The school received $2,000 for winning the honor as a national model school, and must use the money for its drug-prevention program.
The school also must open its doors to anyone who wants to learn about the programs, Mr.Dotterweich said, adding that he was happy to do so.
The winning schools were picked by the U.S. Department of Education, and each had to have a drug prevention program in place for two or more years.
The programs also had to show success in decreasing drug and alcohol use, enforcing a zero-tolerance policy, training staff, teaching prevention of drug and alcohol abuse in the classroom, and involving students, parents and the community.
"These schools exemplify the level of community and school commitment required to rid our schools of drugs," said Lamar Alexander, U.S. secretary of education.
The Drug-Free School Recognition program, now in its fourth year, honored schools from 28 states and the District of Columbia.