Howard County high schools are standardized in many ways - bell schedules, cafeteria lunches and county curriculums to name a few.
However, the selection process for admission to the National Honor Society, as well as member expectations and service requirements, is different at all 12 high schools. The only standardization the county has for entry into the honor society is a cumulative minimum 3.4 grade-point average.
Most schools use teacher recommendations, a personal essay and a list of extracurricular activities to determine a student's eligibility for entry. However, no two schools have exactly the same requirements.
Although most schools require teacher recommendations, the number of recommendations needed varies from none at River Hill to recommendations from all of a student's teachers from the previous year at Hammond.
"It's not fair that schools have different requirements," said Howard High School senior Lisa Foreman. "I think that the National Honor Society at Howard is one of the more challenging NHS chapters to uphold membership in. I find that I have more requirements than at other schools concerning hours and meetings."
Many Howard County high school students - and parents - believe that just being a member of the honor society will improve the chances of getting into college. However, David Cordts, associate director for the National Honor Society at the National Association of Secondary School Principals, maintains that it is not a student's membership in the society that is important to colleges. Rather, it is what the student does after he or she is admitted that counts.
"The purpose of the society is twofold: to recognize students who meet selection criteria and to involve the students in additional character-building and service opportunities," Cordts said. "Nowhere in the purpose of the honor society is helping getting a student into college."
In Howard County, where there are more than 1,000 juniors and seniors in the honor society, different member expectations and service requirements will greatly alter students' experiences.
At some schools, including Hammond, extracurricular activities are not a significant component of the honor society's selection process.
Faculty sponsor Michale Sivell said, "Extracurricular activities are not a major factor in determining membership but can help with the committee's understanding of the student's overall accomplishments."
At other schools, such as Long Reach and Mount Hebron, extra-curricular activities are regarded as one of the most important factors for admission.
Long Reach and Mount Hebron use a point system - based on a student's involvement in sports, musical groups, clubs and other school-related activities - to determine eligibility for the society. Vicki Clem, the Mount Hebron faculty sponsor, said the point system is in place, "just in case the selection committee did not know enough about [the student]."
Clem said students in the honor society need to be well-rounded. "NHS is not just a brain trust," she said.
Once admitted, honor society members are required to participate in community service projects. The National Honor Society National Council requires only that each chapter participate in at least one service activity a year. Each county high school has different service requirements, ranging from 32 hours a year at Hammond to 15 hours a year at Mount Hebron.
Cordts said it is common for each school in a district to set admission requirements.
"It is important for local schools to establish what the standard should be ... not only because the personnel and curriculum differ, but also because the student bodies differ," said Cordts. "Quite frankly, in some communities there is a need for service on a daily basis, but in other communities, there is little need for service."
In Howard County, service has become a hallmark of the National Honor Society. Each school's chapter provides a free tutoring program. Many schools, such as Hammond, require members to attend Adopt-A-Road sessions several times a year to clean up the road in front of the school.
Ariell Watson, a member of the honor society at Atholton High School, maintains that her membership in the organization has helped her to recognize the importance of service.
"I joined NHS because it seemed like the typical thing for good students to do," Watson said. "It has been a good opportunity for me to make sure that I am involved in service. It hasn't really changed me, but I have been able to recognize what [community service] I am already doing."