For students at Riverdale Baptist School, the day begins with a prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance, a pledge to the Christian flag and a reading from the Bible. And before Colleen Rogers begins teaching her 10th-grade English class, her students ask their classmates to pray again, perhaps for football victories or for the recovery of ailing relatives.
The early-morning routine at Largo High School, two miles up the road, is, by comparison, short and secular. The students in Maria DeMakis' 10th-grade literature class recite the Pledge of Allegiance, then sit down and write a complex sentence.
At Riverdale students wear trendless uniforms -- boys in blue slacks, girls in plaid skirts -- pray before each class, and attend chapel once a week and Bible class every day. Teachers oversee their classrooms from cross-shaped lecterns and decorate their bulletin boards with Bible scenes.
There are no biblical bulletin boards at Largo, and organized prayer is not allowed. The students wear blue jeans, T-shirts and sweat pants.
There are dramatic differences in the environments of the two schools. And yet when it comes to teaching 10th-grade English, the approach is remarkably similar. Lesson plans resemble each other, teachers assign many of the same books, and class discussions sound alike. Rogers and DeMakis will spend the school year guiding sophomores through grammar, composition and the classics.
Once the bell rings, the teachers dole out similar academic diets of grammar, composition and literature to students of above-average ability. The Largo class is "talented and gifted" students; the Riverdale students are headed into the school's academic college-preparatory track.
Students in both classes work on sentence structure and vocabulary and write compositions on characterization and plot. They have demanding homework assignments and teachers who consider classroom discussion important.
At Largo, DeMakis' class is reading "Antigone," Shakespeare and "The Inferno," sophisticated classics on many college reading lists. Rogers' Riverdale students are reading "Moby Dick," "Great Expectations" and "The Red Badge of Courage" and are required to make presentations, sometimes in the form of a play, on their interpretations.
In both classes, school officials have decided that certain books should not be taught. Prince George's County, for example, has removed from its list of approved reading Dick Gregory's "Nigger" and "Catcher in The Rye," J.D. Salinger's controversial novel about the trials of adolescence. Also off the list is "The Lottery," a short story by Shirley Jackson that Rogers teaches at Riverdale Baptist.
"It wasn't that we were being book burners," said Eremain Jackson, an English supervisor for the county schools. The list was pared, she said, because students have been given more required reading in recent years. But she said these books were removed also because they were controversial.
Jackson said school officials have no intention of eviscerating the classics. DeMakis' students at Largo, for example, are reading a bawdy chapter in Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales," which the Riverdale students will not read.
"The Wife of Bath . . . is quite a liberated woman for her time. You're getting into adult reading. Don't be shocked," DeMakis told her students as they prepared to read the chapter one day recently.
DeMakis said she believes her students are mature enough to deal with the sexual references in the tale. "They're exposed to everything," she said. "I think they should be."
Rogers said her students read some parts of the Canterbury Tales, but not the Wife of Bath's tale. "I prefer not to read it," Rogers said. "We don't have every student at the maturity level . . . . I have some very immature students, who would laugh or embarass the others."
Nor does Rogers teach "Catcher in the Rye." And when a student proposed a book report on "The Life and Times of Elvis Presley," Rogers said no.
"Tom Sawyer" is on reading lists at both schools, but Rogers said parents can ask that their child not read the book if they object to the racial language it contains.
"Because we're a Christian school, we defer to parental authority," Rogers said.
The county's public school students are taught that the racial language in Tom Sawyer is a reflection of the time in which it was written, said Jackson. "We cannot rewrite literature. As deplorable as it was . . . that's a realistic reflection of the time.