President Clinton will visit Howard County's Mayfield Woods Middle School Wednesday to kick off a national drug awareness campaign known as the Red Ribbon Celebration.
The visit to the Elkridge middle school will give the president an opportunity to urge Congress to restore funding to Safe and Drug-Free Schools legislation and mark the first anniversary of the $30-billion anti-crime bill, a White House spokeswoman said yesterday.
"I am so delighted that Howard County was selected as the site for the national red ribbon kickoff, and I am equally excited that President Clinton has chosen to attend that kickoff," said Joyce Brown, coordinator of the county's substance-abuse programs.
As many as 2,000 people -- including all the school's 850 students -- are expected to attend the presidential visit, which tentatively is scheduled to be held outdoors on the playing field.
If the festivities are moved inside the gymnasium, only the sixth-graders are expected to be able to attend the president's speech.
Mayfield Woods Principal Jesse Smith told students of the presidential visit yesterday morning during homeroom announcements.
"My mouth dropped open," said sixth-grader Christina Curry later in the afternoon. "I was so surprised. A lot of kids started yelling, 'Yea! We get to see the president. We get to see the person in charge of the whole United States.' "
Mayfield Woods parents were equally excited when they heard the news.
"I'm flabbergasted," said Karlen Murray, first vice president of the school's PTA. "This is quite an honor. I'm still in the phase though that I'll believe it when I see it, because I know that things can come up between now and that could cancel the visit."
The Red Ribbon celebration began in 1988 as a way for people to display their intolerance for drugs.
Some wear the ribbons; others fasten them to cars and mailboxes.
Mr. Clinton is the honorary chairman of the campaign.
Mayfield Woods was selected as the site for the celebration kickoff because of its proximity to Washington and its highly regarded drug prevention programs, said Rick Evans, executive director for the National Family Partnership of St. Louis, coordinator of the Red Ribbon campaign.
"Mayfield Woods really fit the bill because of its great drug and alcohol programs and its staff that is committed to the programs," Mr. Evans said.
He also cited Howard's countywide drug prevention efforts and Ms. Brown's participation in national drug abuse groups as other factors in the selection of the school.
The county's drug prevention programs may be highly regarded, but Howard students still have high rates of substance abuse.
For example, by the time Howard students graduate from middle school, 49 percent have drunk beer or wine in the previous year -- compared to 41 percent of their peers statewide, according to the latest student survey.
Details of the presidential visit still are being worked out.
However, the president likely will spend about two hours at Mayfield Woods Wednesday morning, after arriving by helicopter.
Several national drug prevention advocates are expected to attend the ceremony, including Mr. Evans; Lee P. Brown, the White House director of drug control policy; and James E. Copple, executive director of the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America.
Besides marking the first anniversary of the anti-crime bill that banned assault weapons and provided billions of dollars to build prisons and hire police, Mr. Clinton is expected to criticize proposed congressional cuts in funding for Safe and Drug-Free Schools.
Those cuts would cause Maryland to lose more than half -- or $3.5 million -- of its federal money used to pay for school drug prevention programs, according to data provided by the U.S. Department of Education.
Howard County school officials had little comment on the planned visit yesterday, saying they had been prevented from confirming it by the White House until late in the day.
"We are honored that we were selected," school spokeswoman Patti Caplan said.
Principal Smith declined to discuss the visit after a noontime meeting with Secret Service agents.
The Red Ribbon celebration week isn't until Oct. 23-31, but the presidential kickoff is set for next week to permit video to be filmed for a national television commercial.
The commercial will air during the celebration week.
The last time a White House resident visited Howard County was during the first week of the 1991-1992 school year, when first lady Barbara Bush read to students at Worthington Elementary School. The prospect of Mr. Clinton's visit continued to generate excitement yesterday at the Elkridge school as the news spread.
"What a week!" Mayfield parent Mary Curry exclaimed to her daughter, Christina, as school was letting out. "First Cal Ripken, now the president."
Asked which event was more exciting, Christina didn't hesitate.
"It is the president," she said with a wide grin.
To which her mother proudly beamed: "That's the right answer, dear."