Science event names 2 from Centennial as semifinalists

The Baltimore Sun

Two Centennial High School students have been named semifinalists in a prestigious science competition dubbed the "junior Nobel Prize."

Seniors Peter Kamel and Henry Zheng are two of 300 students nationwide who are semifinalists in the Intel Science Talent Search. The students learned of their honors in the pre-college contest on Jan. 14.

Each student earned a $1,000 prize and $2,000 for the school.

Zheng's research focuses on the application of data fusion for prosthetic systems. Kamel's research addresses artificial tissue design. Both students' research has been done in conjunction with their Gifted and Talented resource teacher Michelle Bagley. The students also worked with mentors: Dr. Soumya Acharya at the Johns Hopkins University Thakor Lab for Zheng, and Dr. Emad Boctor at Johns Hopkins Hospital for Kamel.

"It's pretty significant," Principal Carl Perkins said. "We are very proud of it."

On Wednesday, 40 of the 300 semifinalists will be selected as finalists and take part in a weeklong event in Washington, where they will compete for a grand prize of $100,000. Each finalist will receive at least $5,000 and a new laptop computer. This year's semifinalists were selected from 1,608 entrants, and come from 36 states, the District of Columbia and schools in India and South Korea.

Absenteeism soars on Inauguration Day

Many county students and teachers didn't want to watch the presidential inauguration from their classrooms - they wanted to be active participants.

There were 527 requests for absences among teachers, compared with the normal of about 350. All but 91 of the absences were filled by substitutes, according to school system spokeswoman Patti Caplan. Schools doubled up classrooms or found other solutions to address the shortage.

"They [schools] are used to times when they do not have subs," Caplan said.

Fewer students attended school, too, Caplan said. Sixteen elementary schools, 13 middle schools, one high school and Cedar Lane School all reported at least 10 percent absenteeism. On an average day, the absenteeism rate for the system on the whole is 4 percent, she said.

Expulsion likely for teen who had gun at center

A 15-year-old boy charged with bringing a gun to Homewood Center this month will probably be expelled under school system policy because of the offense, spokeswoman Patti Caplan said.

Caplan said extenuating circumstances such as students with special needs or students younger than 16 could warrant an appeal.

"It depends on the circumstances," she said.

Caplan declined to discuss the student's current status, citing policy on confidentiality.

On Jan. 5, a teacher observed the student acting suspiciously, police said. An administrator and school resource officer later found an unloaded handgun and ammunition in the student's coat pocket.

The boy was charged with possessing a concealed deadly weapon and having a weapon on school property. He was also charged with resisting arrest, disturbing school operations, failing to obey a lawful order and reckless endangerment. He was charged as a juvenile and turned over to the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services, police said.

The Homewood Center is described by the school system as "a countywide alternative educational program for students in need of intensive academic and behavioral instruction and support."

Cousins pledges safety after arrest of teacher

County schools remain a safe environment for students despite the arrest of a longtime Mount Hebron band director who is accused of having inappropriate sexual contact with a student, Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin said.

Cousin's assurance came during a school board meeting this month.

"We take these situations very seriously, and we have policies and procedures in place that govern how school system employees are to respond to suspicions or allegations of child abuse," Cousin said. "In addition, we take steps to make sure our staff understands what is and is not appropriate behavior when interacting with students."

Robert Douglas Johnston, a 61-year-old band director who has taught at Mount Hebron High for 35 years, is accused of sexually abusing a female student over a two-year period that began when she was 15. He was indicted Wednesday by a Howard County grand jury.

Johnston was arrested Dec. 23 and charged with sexual abuse of a minor, third- and fourth-degree sex offenses, and obscene telephone misuse. He could face up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

Johnston remains on paid administrative leave. He is banned from the school and has been ordered not to have contact with the victim. He is free on bail.

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