River Hill High students clean up at church sullied by vandalism

The Baltimore Sun

When news of vandalism at a nearby church spread at River Hill High School, students sprang into volunteer mode.

More than 35 students spent the last two Saturdays in October at Linden-Linthicum United Methodist Church in Clarksville, where a garden, pathway and a fence were vandalized in mid-October.

"People were linking [the vandalism] to our school," said Principal William Ryan. "The kids thought that this shouldn't be a reflection on our school."

Sean Kirby, a 16-year-old junior, went to the church on both occasions to help clean up. Before the vandalism, he and many of the volunteers parked at the church during the school day. After the destruction of property, the church prohibited students from using the parking lot.

"We felt that [the vandalism] was morally wrong," Kirby said. "We wanted to help the community fix up something that should have never happened."

The vandalism caused several hundred dollars worth of damage, according to the Rev. Bryant M. Oskvig, the pastor.

The garden that was damaged was a memorial for an 11-year-old member of the church who died during the 1990s, Oskvig said. A plaque dedicated to the girl was destroyed. "There was an emotional connection," he said.

Oskvig has been impressed by the students' cleanup efforts.

"They organized themselves and showed up," he said. "... They were very self-directed. It was an incredible statement of community on their part."

Students rebuilt the pathway, weeded the garden, planted flowers and rebuilt the fence, Kirby said. Some of them also have been picking up garbage in the area each day.

And there has been talk of the students planting flowers during the spring, and also helping with a land-erosion project at the church, Oskvig said.

"There were a number of people who were heartsick over what happened in the garden," Oskvig said. "Some of our members were concerned that River Hill students were linked to the crime. The high school students took responsibility and healed those wounds and forged a new relationship with them."

Two former River Hill students who dropped out of school in September were arrested last week and charged in the vandalism at the church and a tot lot.

Many who helped with the cleanup were student-athletes and participated after practices.

"We didn't go home and shower," Kirby said. "We just went right to the church and started the gardening."

"I am very proud of them," Ryan said. "It signifies why this school is worthy of a Blue Ribbon." River Hill was one of seven Maryland schools designated by the U.S. Department of Education last month as No Child Left Behind-Blue Ribbon Schools.

Making the grade

When two transfer students asked Diane McAllister if they could use their 3.0 grade-point averages to attend this year's kickoff of the Renaissance Long Reach program, she said she realized "it is an initiative that makes a difference in the school."

McAllister, a teacher in the Gifted-and-Talented Program at Long Reach High School in Columbia, has overseen the program, which rewards students with pep rallies, red-carpet functions and other events for getting good grades.

Nearly 600 students took part in the kickoff event, which featured skits and dances by students and teachers, she said.

"It was a riot," said McAllister, who sang a rendition of the Aretha Franklin classic "Respect" with a group of teachers. "It was fun. It was one of our better productions."

To be a Renaissance member, students must have at least a 3.0 grade-point average or improve their GPA by at least a half-point. Incentives range from a class getting candy for perfect attendance to a red-carpet recognition ceremony.

McAllister credits Principal Ed Evans for the program's success. "It takes a lot of energy and buy-in by staff," McAllister said. "Ed really has made that happen. He's been really behind it."

McAllister and two other teachers got the idea at the Jostens Renaissance Conference in Orlando, Fla., last summer, sponsored by the Minneapolis company known for yearbooks and class rings. The program brings together a cross-section of students, including special-education and gifted-and-talented students, she said.

A pep rally in February will be the next major event associated with the Renaissance program, McAllister said.

7 have staph infection

Seven students in Howard County have been diagnosed with a form of staph infection that is resistant to antibiotics.

The latest cases were reported last week and involved one student at Glenwood Middle School and one student at Oakland Mills Middle School, according to Howard County schools spokeswoman Patti Caplan.

A week before, a student at Marriotts Ridge High School and one at Harper's Choice Middle School were diagnosed with skin infections caused by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, known as MRSA.

Four weeks ago, two Wilde Lake students became the first reported cases of MRSA infection in the county this school year. That same week, a 17-year-old Virginia high school student died after being hospitalized with the infection. Virginia officials shut down 21 schools for cleaning to keep the infection from spreading.

Howard County schools maintenance workers will continue to spray disinfectants each night in the locker rooms and bathrooms at each of the 12 county high schools, Caplan said.

Student India-bound

Priya Agarwal-Harding, a 17-year-old senior at Glenelg Country School, is shaping up to be an international activist against child abuse.

Agarwal-Harding, of Clarksville, was recently honored by the Fund for the Future of Our Children, also known as FFC. She became the first recipient of the Micro-Grant for Youth Leadership. She was awarded $2,000 for her work with PRAYAS, an organization based in India that helps rehabilitate victims of child-trafficking and abuse.

Agarwal-Harding, who has raised $4,500 for the organization this past year, will travel to India during the winter break to give the money to the organization.


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