Augusta Preparatory Day School seventh-grader Andrew Motzkus recently signed his name on a contract, one that requires him to behave.
Augusta Prep students Susie Bohler and Mark LaVine get books for their next class. There are no locks on the school's lockers. The students are bound by the school's honor code to respect the property of others.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Students begin learning the honor code in elementary school, and those who come into the school are indoctrinated on the policy during the admission process. Students are all required to sign the honor code publicly as a condition for attending the school.
"With the honor code, it teaches them more of a sense of community and gives them the responsibility to make that community what we would all like it to be," said Rick Cameron, head of the upper school, who spent five years as adviser to the Discipline Honor Council.
Should students forget, copies of the honor code are posted in each classroom. And on graded assignments, students write "pledged" at the top of their paper to show that it is their own work.
The honor code also provides an environment where learning is not hampered by distrust among the students. The lockers don't even have locks.
"I think we do a lot of things we wouldn't do if we were at other schools. We can lay stuff around and know that nothing will happen to it," said Patricia Quinland, an 11th-grader.
Cameron said the honor code began at the school in the 1980s. Ten students and two faculty advisers serve on the council, which investigates any infractions and makes disciplinary recommendations to the principal.
"It's not one strike and you're out," said headmaster Jack Hall, who has suspended one student this year for breaking the code. "We do have zero tolerance, but what that means is there will be action taken. But a first-time offense is a time for education, unless it is an egregious offense."
Hall said it is the first school he has ever been to without locks on lockers. But he admits there are times when students break the code.
In September, Augusta Prep Day School seventh-grader Andrew Motzkus took part in the public signing of the school's honor code.
"It's sort of like a car; it does break down from time to time," Hall said. "Items are stolen, and students do cheat. We are not claiming to be a place where none of that exists."
The Discipline Honor Committee is not a student police force; every student is responsible for maintaining the honor code and the enforcement of it.
"It's a responsibility to be your brother's keeper, and it's a pretty awesome responsibility to put on young people," Hall said.
Getting teens to turn in their friends can sometimes be hard, Hall said. But students take the honor code seriously.
"It wouldn't be a question of hard, it would be a question of they did something wrong and it wouldn't be right if I didn't turn them in," said Lauren Bighamm, a tenth-grader.
More than reading, writing or arithmetic, the lessons learned from the school's honor code may be the most important ones at Augusta Prep, Hall said.
"Honor and integrity are two of the most important things students carry with them the rest of their lives. Honor and integrity are important no matter what you do. Our system is not perfect, but this is the way it ought to be."
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