President Clinton's scheduled visit to Mayfield Woods Middle School today has left no detail of the Elkridge school unexamined -- including the American flag hanging on the pole outside.
Deemed too small by the Secret Service, it was among the many items to be spruced up or replaced in preparation for Howard County's first presidential visit since President Jimmy Carter sang "Georgia on My Mind" with Willie Nelson at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in 1978.
"When you're dealing with so many people, it's not easy, but I think preparations have gone well," said Jesse Smith, principal of Mayfield Woods. "We're experienced with these sort of big events, so everything will be fine."
Just two years ago, Mayfield Woods played host to then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer, and last year 700 middle school educators descended on the school for a statewide convention.
But today's kickoff for the national drug awareness campaign known as the Red Ribbon Celebration is more than just a Maryland event, though Gov. Parris N. Glendening, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and a complement of Howard politicians are scheduled to attend.
"It's the most powerful person on Earth who will be right here at our school. It's really exciting!" said Mayfield Woods physical education teacher John Aquila.
Other national figures tentatively scheduled to attend include Vice President Al Gore, Attorney General Janet Reno, Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna E. Shalala and White House drug control policy Director Lee P. Brown.
The Red Ribbon Celebration, which actually will take place the last week of October, lets participants show their intolerance for drugs by wearing red ribbons or tying them to their cars. A television commercial featuring Mr. Clinton will be filmed at Mayfield Woods.
"I'm going to be kind of nervous in front of all those people," said Mayfield Woods eighth-grader Nitin Joshi, one of 10 students selected to sign a drug-free pledge with the president. "It's pretty cool that all of them are coming to support something we believe in."
Perhaps the most nervous person of all this morning will be eighth-grader Terrell Brice, 13 -- the student picked to introduce Mr. Clinton. Terrell practiced his brief speech over and over yesterday and promised that "everything will go well -- as long as I don't forget my note card."
All 800 or so students at the school have been involved in preparing for Mr. Clinton's visit.
One class of sixth-graders rehearsed substance-abuse cheers yesterday afternoon while another group practiced with letter placards that spell out this year's Red Ribbon theme, "Be Healthy and Drug-Free."
Students have covered the walls of Mayfield Woods with colorful posters espousing drug abuse prevention messages.
And the school's choir and Red Ribbon band have been hastily rehearsing songs for the event, ranging from "America the Beautiful" to several drug-free tunes.
"We're preparing songs for the second week of school that we normally wouldn't have done until April," said music teacher Charla Phillips. "But this is the biggest performance of the year, so the kids are excited to work hard for it."
It's not just the students who were practicing for today. A Marine helicopter was scheduled to set down on the school's ball field yesterday afternoon to ensure that the landing site is problem-free.
Outside of the school, the stage, bleachers and 1,000 chairs were set up yesterday as members of the Secret Service, Howard County police and Howard County fire and rescue looked on.
Barricades already were in place to block off much of the neighborhood around Mayfield Avenue from traffic, and people invited to the ceremony will need to park at one of two remote sites and take a shuttle to the school. Neighbors have been invited.
The U.S. Department of Education will pick up most of the tab for today's event, although the school system and county government may have to share a few "minimal costs," said school spokeswoman Patti Caplan. She could not be more specific.
Choosing what to wear for today's ceremony was among the easiest decisions anyone had to make -- anything red, in honor of the Red Ribbon Celebration.
"Blue has been my favorite color for a long time, but for this I'll be wearing red," promised Mayfield Woods math teacher Charlotte Smith. "It's the required uniform."
Since the visit was announced, students and teachers alike have been hoping for a chance to meet Mr. Clinton. "I hope I can shake his hand, but there's going to be a lot of people there," said seventh-grader Zachary Weir.
The school's principal has more in mind for Mr. Clinton than a simple handshake, however -- he wants a presidential autograph.
"I went to the inauguration and took these photos, and I hope to get them blown up and have the president autograph them," he said. "I would really love to have him do that."
TENTATIVE SCHEDULE OF PRESIDENTIAL VISIT
* 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.: Shuttle buses take guests to school.
* 10:05 a.m.: President Clinton arrives via helicopter.
* 10:40 a.m.: Red Ribbon Celebration begins.
* 11:05 a.m.: Mr. Clinton begins address.
* 12:05 p.m.: Celebration ends.
* 12:15 p.m.: President leaves via helicopter. Shuttles begin returning guests to remote parking lots.
Parking will be prohibited at the school and in the neighborhood. Guests with invitations are required to park at either the Dobbin Center on Route 175 or at the Columbia 9 movie theater on Route 108 and ride a shuttle to the school.