William Collison was going to be just another statistic.
Only a few years ago he was well on his way to becoming one of the state's more than 13,000 high school dropouts. But today, thanks to the help of the Maryland's Tomorrow program, he is a proud member of Howard High School's graduating class of 1993.
Thursday, Mr. Collison, 18, was honored in Annapolis as one of Maryland's Tomorrow Bright Stars, an award that goes to one student from each county. Recipients are chosen by teachers and administrators for making a significant improvement in their own grades and attitudes toward learning.
Mr. Collison received a $100 savings bond and a certificate of congratulations from the governor, who attended a dinner for the students in Annapolis.
The statewide program, which is in its fifth year, is a partnership of the Johns Hopkins University Institute for Policy Studies, the State Department of Education, local Private Industry Councils and each of the Maryland school districts.
Its aim is to reduce the number of students who are at risk of dropping out of high school and to increase the number who successfully go on to post-secondary education or employment. It also seeks to change school practices to benefit all students.
More than 1,100 students have graduated from the program and are currently receiving school-to-work or college transition services.
Those with poor school attendance, low scores on standardized reading and math tests or who have failed a grade are identified in the eighth grade as candidates for the program.
The students are nominated for the Bright Star award by program teachers or counselors at their school based on academic achievement, leadership, community service, attitude and school attendance. Those who nominate the student write a "stars story," which includes the student's own assessment of his or her future plans and aspirations.
"We look for kids who have made drastic turnarounds," said Laura Noffke, a program assistant at Johns Hopkins University.
"Up until seventh grade I was a 'B' average student. When I went into the eighth grade everything dropped off because of my personal problems," said Mr. Collison, who began in the Maryland's Tomorrow program in 1988, his freshman year in high school.
"I wasn't enjoying school the same. My grades weren't the same because I wasn't in school. I would say I didn't want to go to school and I would stay at home all day and wouldn't do much of anything," he said.
Mr. Collison added that he would stay at home partially because he wasn't sleeping at night.
Norma Collison, his mother, said her son had "the everyday kind of problems you have when you're from a broken home. He had a hard time in school. He was always such a perfectionist but he never worked to his full potential."
Mr. Collison had a 0.7 grade point average with 70 days absent in his first year of high school. He earned one credit and had to repeat the grade.
"I struggled through the next two or three years," he said, pointing out that he maintained about a 2.5 grade point average. But through those tough times, his involvement in the program proved useful.
"I'm not one to quit, but probably without their help, I might not be in school right now. If I ever wanted someone to talk to they'd be there. If I missed days because I was sick, they'd get my work together and have someone bring it to me and they gave me the moral support, always pushing me to do better."
Mr. Collison's junior year was a challenge.
"There was one point last year when I started missing a lot of classes again. My appetite dropped off and I'd hardly sleep at all. Around December my doctor told me I had insomnia and depression and the doctor put me on medication to relax me so that I'd get to sleep at night," he said.
"They threatened to withdraw me from school. I was fed up with the way things were going. That's when I tried to start doing things better. I went through home tutoring for a while," he said.
He began working harder in school and he raised his grade point average tremendously. He made a 3.8 and 3.33 grade point average in the first and second quarters of his senior year. He maintained a 2.83 in the third quarter and is striving again for a 3.8 or 4.0 this final quarter.
"Many of our students are very high achievers once they turn their attitude around," Ms. Noffke said, and Mr. Collison did just that.
Mr. Collison's mother is impressed.
"Billy just wanted to do so good for everyone to be proud of him and I've been very proud. He excels in everything he does. He doesn't drink, do drugs, or smoke. He just doesn't approve of that kind of stuff. With the way the world is today and all the temptation there is to do it, it's real easy to fall into the trap that a lot of his friends have fallen into," she said.
Mr. Collison spends part of his school days at the Howard County School of Technology, where he studies drafting. He is involved in the Vocational Industrial Clubs of America, where he placed third in Region Two and fifth in the statewide competition.
He also has placed first, second, and third in statewide target shooting competitions held with the International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association.
Mr. Collison will graduate from Howard High School on June 4. He is still weighing options for his future. "Maybe I'll go to a community college or to the Army," he said.