Nearly 1,200 high school students were kicked off athletic teams and school clubs in Prince George's County this year when school administrators began requiring a C-average grade minimum for students involved in extracurricular activities.
Parents and teachers joined students affected by the new regulation in crying foul: Many complained that undue emphasis was being placed on academics rather than what could be achieved outside the classroom.
At the same time, administrators charged with enforcing the school board's new policy smarted at the statistics showing that 39 percent of the system's students fell below the 2.0 grade-point cutoff. The percentage was viewed by some as an indication of deficiencies in the county schools.
The C-average rule still stands, but some county and school officials are searching for special ways to help students whose grades do not measure up.
One alternative, to be started this summer, is the Prince George's Youth Leadership Program, a training-and-jobs program patterned after a successful District government project that has been placing 14-to-17-year-old students in summer employment since 1979.
"There are a lot of kids in the school system . . . who have the potential for being good leaders but are just not living up to their potential," said County Council member Hilda Pemberton, who is overseeing the privately funded program out of her council office.
A committee will select 25 students for a two-week program at Bowie State College featuring workshops on leadership skills and job-hunting techniques, such as how to prepare resumes.
The students will be placed in summer jobs ranging from concession work at a local amusement park to clerical positions in government agencies such as the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. Pemberton and others have secured the positions and have raised $7,000 toward the $10,000 they say is needed to pay a temporary program administrator.
Students with C and D averges often need the attention such a program can provide more than high-achievers do, Pemberton said.
"We're hoping this will be motivational," she said. The deadline for submitting applications is tomorrow, although Pemberton said it might be extended.
Five high schools -- Largo, Suitland, Central, Forestville and Potomac, all in Pemberton's district -- have been targeted for recruitment, but the program is open to all high school students in the county, regardless of grade average.
A panel of educators and community leaders will select and interview the candidates, Pemberton said. She said it is are looking for students who show the ability to take charge and who had intelligence that may not be reflected in their grades.
Any county students in that age group may apply, and nearly 70 students had done so by early this week.
In the District, the Mayor's Youth Leadership Program has selected the 500 young people who will participate in the city's summer training and jobs session, which begins at Howard University July 1, coordinator Anthony Roberson said. There are no grade requirements for that program, but organizers use broad demographic guidelines to select participants.
Roberson said students in the District are asked to volunteer for community organizations or serve as appointed members of boards in the months after the summer jobs have ended. When they have nearly completed the yearlong program, they act as interviewers screening potential applicants for the next year's program.
Through work experiences this summer, it is hoped that Prince George's students will become involved in community organizations and become "more viable citizens," said Marval Smith, a vice principal at Suitland High School and an organizer of the Prince George's program.
"One of the main things students are going to have to pass to get out of high school is a citizenship exam," she said. "That is one of the things I have emphasized . The job becomes a secondary thing."
Only 38 percent of the county's ninth graders passed the citizenship test last year, which was the first time it was given. Passing the test, which includes questions about the functions of government, will become a graduation requirement in 1988.
Pemberton, who is black, said that she is hoping to help black students in particular, who make up nearly 58 percent of the county's school population. "We have to start to develop our own leaders in the black community," she said. "Nobody has taken that on as a challenge."