It was a bright, hot Saturday at the end of May, tantalizingly close to the end of the school term. They could have been shopping. They could have been swimming. They could have been just hanging around.
But for about 250 delegates to the first Prince George's County convention for elementary, middle and high school students, there was a single purpose yesterday as they gathered at Prince George's Community College. They came to talk -- about friends who tell them terrible secrets, about too-short lunch periods and bragging classmates, about teachers who do not seem to understand.
"I think sometimes teachers have a little bit of prejudice. Maybe they like a certain kind of student or a certain race, and if your teacher doesn't like you for some reason, you really have to struggle," said LaKeisha Roach, 13, a seventh grader at Roger Taney Middle School in Temple Hills.
"Besides that, it just makes you feel bad."
As LaKeisha spoke, many of the 15 other students in her discussion group nodded gravely.
Yes, a lot of them know that feeling.
The event, sponsored by the county's new Commission for Children and Youth, was intended to bring out just such opinions and thoughts.
"Generally, you end up having adults talk, talk, talk about kids," said Bonnie Johns, a former county school board member who heads the commission. "It occurred to me that it's awfully important for the kids to speak for themselves, to be encouraged to articulate their problems and see how you go about finding solutions. I have a lot of respect for kids."
The convention opened with a spirited roll call of the estimated 70 public and private schools that sent representatives. The delegates were chosen by their teachers, principals or guidance counselors, and they included "handicapped students, slow learners, the average kids and those above average, because that's the real world," Johns said.
After brief speeches by several county officials, including County Executive Parris Glendening and County Council Chairwoman Hilda Pemberton, the students got down to the real business of the day. They divided into smaller groups, each presided over by two adults, and began to speak their minds.
"See, some kids in my school are scared," said Jay Jackson, 11, a pupil at Doswell Brooks Elementary School in Capitol Heights. "They know about drugs, but if they tell on somebody, their friends are going to mess them up."
"Yeah," said Fritz Hahn, an 11-year-old who attends Pointer Ridge Elementary in Bowie. "They're scared because an older person, a teen-ager, will come and get them."
In another group, Charles Thomas, a junior at Laurel High School, shared his difficulties in dealing with a certain teacher. Teachers -- and their shortcomings -- were a major topic of the morning's session.
"I'm the type person, I take as much as I can, but enough is enough," Thomas said. "I had to withdraw from the class, because I knew if I stayed any longer, I was going to hit that teacher or do something worse."
A girl in middle school spoke haltingly about her best friend, who is frequently beaten by her mother. A high school student mentioned a friend who is pregnant and afraid to tell her parents. A sixth grade boy grumbled about how his class always gets shortchanged at lunch period.
In one group, some students fumed about the problem of classmates involved in talented and gifted (TAG) programs who occasionally lord it over the others.
"So what? What's the big deal about TAG?" asked a sixth grade girl. "Some people are talented and gifted in some things and not other things. Big deal. I have one friend, she makes it sound like she's smarter than me. 'Oh,' she says, 'I'm going into the TAG program.' "
Brandon Summers, 10, a pupil at Green Valley Elementary in Temple Hills, listened intently as the girl spoke.
"Oh, if they go around bragging, let them," he said. "People are always bragging about something at my school."