An environmental jam

High school assemblies, apparently, aren't made the way they used to be.

They used to be insipid affairs, if memory serves, of grainy Disney movies about American folk heroes, just a little short on historical accuracy but long on romance.


But folks at Baltimore's Northern High School know how to throw an assembly.

They get down.


Students there spent second period yesterday with Brandy Norwood, a 15-year-old singer with a gold debut album and whose sassy "I Wanna Be Down" spent three weeks at No. 1 on Billboard's R&B; chart. Brandy, in conjunction with Earth Jam, a Calif.-based environmental organization, is touring high schools across the country mixing her jam with a message of environmental concern and action.

"I think the kids need to know that the environment is important and that we have to do what we can to continue to live in it," Brandy said as she signed autographs for students who were still dogging her 10 minutes after her performance. "And I'm down with that."

She also said that maybe her appearance will help remind the students of the lessons on recycling and conservation they've been getting in the classroom.

At the beginning of the 45-minute show, an Earth Jam instructor talked about environmental concerns and waste. ("Buy in bulk." "Turn off the tap when you're brushing your teeth." "An average shower uses 30 gallons of water.")

And then, Brandy.

As she strutted out to "I Wanna Be Down," teachers couldn't keep their students in their seats. They were clamoring to get closer to the stage, to her, bobbing their heads and, well, getting down.

"She's great," said Michael Darden, a senior and president of a student volunteer group. "The students like her and like what they see and it drives the point home of saving the environment at the same time."

Apparently, the feeling was mutual.


"You guys are the bombest crew I've been to," Brandy said, as she skipped off the stage and into the belly of the auditorium, singing and dancing with students in the aisles.

The Mississippi native was singing before she could walk and signed with Atlantic Records when she was 14. She also has acted in the 1993 ABC sitcom "Thea." She will tour with Keith Sweat later this year and will continue promoting her album -- and her green message -- with Earth Jam.

"Because we are a school that emphasizes the environment in our curriculum, Brandy and Earth Jam were drawn to us," says Maxine Harbor, head of the science department.

In four years, the school, through grants from environmental groups and the Department of Energy, has incorporated lessons in water conservation and recycling in its science curriculum and has developed a pilot program for students in citywide schools interested in starting a career in caring for or studying the environment.

Classroom projects and field trips have included boat trips on the Chesapeake Bay, monitoring weather patterns, building a fish farm, cleaning up Perring Parkway and the study of aquaculture. And of course, a visit from Brandy, whose popularity and appearance yesterday may have transformed mere youth pop idolatry into stronger environmental awareness and conviction.