KENSINGTON, Md. - Teenagers care deeply about reputations, and not just theirs - their school's as well.
At one Montgomery County high school, students say just uttering their school's name can make them cringe inside as they brace for the reactions they get.
Sophomore Carmen Dominguez says the most common response she gets when she tells people she attends Albert Einstein High School is, "Oh! You go to Crimestein?"
Einstein was tagged with the negative nickname after a string of incidents involving weapons on campus peaked in 2008: A student brought a gun to sell, and it went off in a boy's bathroom.
No one was hurt, but the school's reputation was damaged, and the name has stuck.
Students and Principal James Fernandez say the tag is unfair and inaccurate. Fernandez says yesterday's reputation doesn't match up with today's reality.
Fernandez points out that over a period of nine years, the Kensington school's programs have improved, academic rigor has been bolstered and students have responded to the changes.
Einstein has an International Baccalaureate program and several academies. Nine years ago, just 43 percent of the graduating students went on to college. Last year, 81 percent headed off to earn a higher education.
"You know, last year we had $17 million in scholarships," Fernandez says.
The issue of labels and negative stereotyping of schools came up during a student town hall meeting Wednesday with Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Joshua Starr.
"I would never want a child to feel like, 'Oh, I go to a school that's not as good as others,'" Starr tells WTOP.
Dominguez, the 10th-grader, tells WTOP that when it was time for her to go to high school, her mother was reluctant to send her to Einstein.
"But then she heard about how Einstein was getting a lot better and she heard about how Mr. Fernandez was doing a lot of really good things," Dominguez says.
Along with Einstein's variety of academic programs, Dominguez says she loves the supportive atmosphere.
"We really are a very accepting school," she says.
Machelle Lee, who moved to the area from Indiana, says her neighbors who send their children to private schools initially told her not to send her children to Einstein.
So Lee visited the school herself, and says her fears were allayed "immediately, within the first week of meeting the teachers." She says she also was thrilled when her children came home declaring they loved the school.
Plus, the school's diversity was important to her and her children.
"They've got a Somali club here, they've got an Ethiopian club here - it's fabulous," she says.
Aside from the diversity, Lee says she appreciated the support she got from teachers. Her daughter is an academic self-starter who thrived immediately. But Lee's son is a musician and she says music, not academics, was his priority.
"So when his grades slipped, his teachers would email me, they would contact me and meet with me personally," Lee says.
Lee says teachers also would coach her son, telling him they knew he was capable of so much more.
And to her friends who send their kids to private schools, Lee has a message:
"I would say you guys are fools paying all that money, because this school really rocks," she says.
(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)