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Honor code challenges students

October 12, 2010

Area high school students are working to create a unique honor code to govern their school's rules, regulations and policies.
Challenger Early College High School students will review and discuss their beliefs and values about what keeps a school running smoothly, and they'll put those values into an honor code.
Challenger Early College High School, located on the campus of Catawba Valley Community College, is a school of 380 students that blends the high school experience with the first two years of college.
"Like in most families, there is an understood honor code," said Heather Benfield, Challenger High assistant principal. "This school is a family."
Benfield, who started as assistant principal this school year, said this is a "formalizing year" for Challenger High School, where students, parents and faculty will start creating the school's handbook, procedures and policies.
The first step in writing an honor code for Challenger is to create a dialogue between students and faculty about what values they want guiding their actions at the school.
Students were asked questions, such as "What are the traits a Challenger student should have?" and "Do you have an honor code within your family or at your workplace."
The school also has a Chalk Talk board where teachers write thought- and discussion-provoking questions. Students write on the long sheets of paper, giving both teachers and fellow students feedback to questions or comments.
These questions, Benfield said, are an impetus for discussion about what rules and guidelines will work best at Challenger.
"Anytime you involve your stakeholders, anytime you involve those who are going to take part in the policy, morale is increased and buy-in is increased," Benfield said.
Early college high schools in North Carolina, like Challenger High, are based on five basic tenets. One of these tenets, personalization, is exemplified through students' honor code creation.
The honor code will be based on Catawba County Schools' character education model, which emphasizes qualities like courage, responsibility, kindness and respect.
"We're not going to take anyone's personal religious views and skew them any one way or another," Benfield said. "We're really staying focused on the county's character education."
The code has yet to be formally implemented, but already it's changing the way students think about right and wrong.
"It's fantasic. Just the conversation about morality has stirred folks in a really profound way," Benfield said.
Since the discussions, Benfield said students are more likely to turn in lost items, like wallets and iPods. The school plans to eventually install a reward system, where students will receive rewards, like a gift card, for their good deeds.
"It's a form of positive reinforcement," Benfield said.
Challenger High senior Stephanie Weikle said the honor code will be a legacy she's glad to be part of.
"I think it's something good to pass down to other students," she said.
Caitlin Hefner, another student, said discussions about morality made her think about the different ways of defining values.
"A lot of things tie in with honor," she said. "People were raised differently. They have different values, so honor is different for everyone."
Once the code is complete, Benfield said she wants the document to be fluid and adaptable to meet the needs of future challenger students.
"It's all part of building a school. It's part of building a child," she said. "You want to be able to meet the needs of the students and prepare them for the 21st century."

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