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Reining in student behavior at graduationsLast year,...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Reining in student behavior at graduations

Last year, I attended one of the Howard County high school graduation ceremonies at Merriweather Post Pavilion. Throughout the ceremony students in the audience yelled out the names of students who were graduating.

Some graduating seniors, who were sitting on the stage, blew up a beach ball and tossed it around the stage, while their guest speaker was talking.

None of the administrators on the stage did anything. This was not an isolated incident. Howard County schools' graduation ceremonies have become sporting events and lack the dignity that should be associated with graduation from high school.

School board members should do several things to stop this kind of behavior at graduation ceremonies. They should hire extra security guards and give them instructions to remove people who yell out names of graduating seniors.

School board members should instruct administrators to remove graduating seniors who disrupt the ceremony so they cannot receive their diploma on stage with their peers. They can get their diplomas after the ceremony. Doing nothing allows students to believe that what they are doing is acceptable. It is not.

If students, on stage and off, cannot follow common rules of courtesy at a high school graduation, the ceremonies should be moved back to the auditorium of each school. It is true that students will not get as many tickets, but that would be better than making graduation ceremonies into sporting events.

Laura Waters

Columbia

The writer is a candidate for the Howard County Board of Education.

Pets are often source of hope for victims

Forty years ago, I grew up in a home of domestic violence. I know firsthand that violence is directed toward animals in these homes.

It was not uncommon for my father to "throw" my beagle puppy out in 3 feet of snow. Later I learned that one of our dogs had been fatally shot.

I think it is great that police want to recruit volunteers to temporarily adopt pets so victims can leave their troubled homes and go to shelters and not have to worry about what is happening to their pet at home.

The state official who said a network of safe cages is not a priority did the right thing to remain anonymous. He or she has very little knowledge about domestic violence, and the bond that develops between a pet and child growing up in a violent household.

For instance, sometimes families are unwilling to leave their home for fear of retaliation toward their pet. These are pets that have loved them unconditionally throughout the turmoil in their lives.

Children often develop a very close relationship with their pets, especially in a home of violence. Children trying to cope with the difficult trauma at home sometimes withdraw from the world in search of a healing place.

Pets often are the source of safety, healing and peace for a child growing up in a home of violence. Kids are often too embarrassed to talk with others about growing up in a home of domestic violence.

Pets offer a place of inner healing that no one knows. And pets need to be protected from a home of violence as well.

To the state official who chose to remain anonymous, shame on you.

Ruth Dumont

Columbia

Tuition plan can open doors for families

As prime sponsor of the bill to establish Maryland's Prepaid College Trust, it has been extremely gratifying to me to see the program begin its first year.

The program offers parents a way to put aside money, protected from taxation, to pay for their children's future college education at current tuition rates.

Edwin Crawford, chairman of the Maryland Prepaid College Trust, described the program accurately as "a thrift-based program, designed to get rid of dependency on debt when your child goes to college." Steven Norwitz, vice president of T. Rowe Price, said these state-operated plans "are a great insurance policy for a lot of people."

The program offers three flexible payment plans. Any parent, relative, friend or business can enter into a contract to pay in one lump sum, or in 60 payments spread over five years, or in extended monthly payments until the child's senior year in high school. The payments may apply to a four-year university education, two years at a community college or a combination of the two.

For example, the benefactor of a child in the fourth grade can pay the average four-year tuition of $16,483 this year, $328 a month for five years or $209 a month until the August before the child is a senior in high school. The community college plan costs $4,293.

The rates will go up every year, based on the average increase in tuition and mandatory fees, which are collectively growing at about 7.5 percent a year.

For those who choose to attend private colleges or leave Maryland, the plan pays tuition and fees up to the average amount charged at a Maryland institution. Applications are being accepted for this year's rates through June 30. To receive an application, call 888-4MD-GRAD or print an application from the Web site www.prepaid.usmd.edu.

Although tuition increases at state schools this year have been limited to 5 percent or less, other years have seen increases as high as 10 percent. It is estimated that tuition and mandatory fees will almost double by 2007.

Investment in Maryland's prepaid plan provides an effective way to avert significant family debt as a way to pay college tuition.

Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer

Annapolis

The writer represents the 12th Legislative District.

Too much wasted on schools, or not enough spent?

I would find it amusing to listen to Howard County councilmen Charles C. Feaga and C. Vernon Gray argue about school budgets, debts and deficits if it were not so alarming, and if I thought they knew what they were talking about.

It would be amusing if their lack of experience and education in the field of finance and their lack of knowledge and understanding of the school programs were not so serious. They have never accepted their responsibility for monitoring the biggest share of the county budget.

One of Superintendent Michael Hickey's problems is that Councilman Darrel Drown and County Executive Charles I. Ecker received their training in the county school system's finance and budget department.

There was a lot of money wasted in the open-space school system and associated programs.

Howard County lacks long-range planning or vision on the County Council. Most large projects have been performed 10 to 15 years too late, when costs have more than doubled. Mr. Feaga says debt is the problem. I say that he and Dr. Gray are the problem.

(If you want to see a good example of one of their crises in the making, just visit the intersection of Routes 40 and 19.)

Del. Shane Pendergrass exemplified the picture, when, as a county councilwoman, she asked a school representative during a budget hearing: "Please explain to us why we have so many schoolchildren in Howard County."

James M. Holway

Ellicott City

My school, Long Reach High, is new. The level of student involvement in our extracurricular activities is far from ideal, but these clubs, teams and organizations have evolved notably since the school opened in 1996.

I and my classmates have founded every organization at the school. At other schools, students have been working for decades to make the high school experience better for the classes that come after them by establishing worthwhile activities. I would hate to see this progress undone because of athletic and extracurricular activity participation fees ($40 per sport and $20 per activity) that are absurd, unfair and discouraging.

In some states, these fees are prohibited by state constitution and law. Although the decision of California's highest court is not in effect in Maryland, the court's opinion can certainly relate: "It can no longer be denied that extracurricular activities constitute an integral component of public education. In addition to the particular skills taught, group activities encourage active participation in community affairs, promote the development of leadership qualities and instill a spirit of collective endeavor. These results are directly linked to the constitutional role of education in preserving democracy."

The court ruled against extracurricular participation fees in this case, Hartzell vs. Connell.

Another concern I have is with the possible cuts to programs such as Gifted and Talented and special education. Special education allows students' needs to be addressed right in the public schools, not far from a child's home and friends.

With the G/T program, many students have a chance to learn at an accelerated pace. While G/T and special education focus on different levels of ability, both give students opportunities that they would not have otherwise.

Cutting the music program, even if only in the lower grades, would also limit the opportunities for many students. Students who are talented and interested in the areas of singing and playing an instrument often first become interested when they perform such songs as "Fifty Nifty United States" and "Pepperoni Pizza" in elementary school concerts.

Currently, textbooks are replaced every eight years. A reduction in that frequency was suggested to reduce costs. Eight years is a long time. New discoveries are made in science, technology and mathematics. Two presidential elections take place. Congress passes new laws. Significant events occur worldwide. Increasing the cycle for textbook replacement will only lessen textbooks' accuracy.

Howard County public schools are among the best in the nation. The County Council must decide whether maintaining this quality is its No. 1 priority and whether we -- today's students and tomorrow's leaders -- are worth it.

Laura A. DiSciullo

Columbia

Pub date: 5/31/98

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