State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick visited four Harford schools Friday to observe some of the innovative programs the county offers to students.
"I'm trying to visit school systems throughout the state," said Dr. Grasmick. "I had heard about the success in Harford."
Dr. Grasmick was accompanied by an entourage of Board of Education officials, school board members and legislators on the tour, which included Southampton Middle School, Harford Technical High School, Aberdeen High School and Hillsdale Elementary School.
The first stop was Southampton Middle in Bel Air, which has an inclusion program that has become a model for other county schools. Inclusion is the process of integrating students with disabilities into classes with other students.
"We had nothing to model it after," said Principal Barbara P. Canavan, who spoke enthusiastically of the team effort of students, parents and teachers.
She described a school day with a flexible schedule and no class periods or bells. "We do what's best for the kids," she said. "There is no mirror image every day."
A positive aspect of inclusion has been the peer ambassador program, in which students help other students who are being mainstreamed into the school, Mrs. Canavan said.
The school involvement has transferred into the students' social world, with invitations to sleep-overs and birthday parties, she said.
Dr. Grasmick said the program was thrilling to her. "We can learn a lot from you across the state," she told Mrs. Canavan.
Harford Technical High School in Bel Air provided lunch for the tour, courtesy of the school's culinary students.
Principal David W. Thomas spoke about the school's tech prep program, in which students earn college credits at Harford Community College and partnership programs with area businesses. "We are working hard to meet all the students' needs either in the workplace or if they go to college," he said.
Jane Fleming of Aberdeen High School described the school's Learning and Mentoring Program (LAMP) "as high touch, not high tech."
LAMP was started at Aberdeen High School two years ago by Principal Robert S. Magee as a way to help students at risk of dropping out. It has expanded to 11 other schools, including elementary schools.
Mentors, who are school staff volunteers, work one-on-one with children on everything from homework to self-esteem.
Dr. Grasmick ended her visit to Harford County at Hillsdale Elementary School in Aberdeen.
A prekindergarten class of 4-year-olds was busy painting, building with blocks and rolling clay while the superintendent talked to the children.
She told teacher Dee Searing that she found the classroom rTC exciting and was impressed with the children's oral skills and the fact that they weren't afraid of strangers.
"This is a real dropout-prevention program," school board member George D. Lisby said.
Principal William D. Gunn described the prekindergarten class as "preparing for school in school." There are currently 13 schools in the county with prekindergarten programs.
The disruptive-youth program at the school is a way the school practices its motto, "Hands are for helping, not hurting," Mr. Gunn said.
Dr. Grasmick said she was "very impressed" with Harford's programs and they show what can be done when schools "are tailored to the needs of the students."