At five back-to-school rallies in the last two weeks, the Howard County chapter of the NAACP encouraged students to strive for excellence. That excellence, said Natalie Woodson, chairman of the group's education committee, is achieved through perfect attendence, good grades and self-discipline.

The rallies, held in five housing complexes throughout the county, featured young local singers, cheerleaders and an African jazz dance troupe from Howard Community College. Local politicians, such as County Executive James N. Robey (D) and County Council member C. Vernon Gray (D-East Columbia), added their own words of inspiration.

NAACP officials handed out school supplies to the more than 200 students who showed up--notebooks and pencils for the elementary school students; loose-leaf paper, folders and pens for middle and high school students. Parents were given a revised NAACP parent handbook and were signed up to receive electronic devices that help children drill in math, spelling and reading.

The rallies were held at the Stevens Forest, Roslyn Rise, Sierra Woods, Waverly Winds and Guilford Gardens apartment complexes. The NAACP plans to expand the rallies next year to Ellicott City, Elkridge, North Laurel and western Howard.

CAPTION: Anthony Graise helps his 3-year-old son, Anthony Jr., survey the school supplies given to him during an NAACP back-to-school rally in Guilford Gardens in Columbia.

CAPTION: Above, children from Guilford Gardens line up to receive free school supplies at the NAACP-sponsored rally. At right, Lynne Newsome, of the Black Student Achievement Program in Howard County, helps 7-year-old Matthew White. The group held five rallies at housing developments across the county and drew more than 200 students.