This year, Morgan Park Academy has reformed the Upper School Honor Council. The purpose of the Morgan Park Academy Honor Council is to allow for a unified and objective evaluation of a student’s work as it relates to our Honor Code. The MPA Honor Code “prohibits lying cheating, and stealing relevant to the school community.”
There are many high schools, colleges, and universities in the United States that have Honor Councils that operate similarly to ours including Middlebury College (Vermont), Princeton University (New Jersey), Davidson College (North Carolina), Duke University (North Carolina) and Knox College (Illinois) just to name a few. Like these schools, we chose the model to allow for peer evaluation and discussion, rather than discipline that is solely teacher-driven.
The MPA Honor Council is purposely weighted with 4 students and 3 teachers to allow for the students’ peers to have the most impact on the outcome. There is also one faculty advisor who serves as the Prefect to make sure that proceedings run smoothly and fairly. This year, I am serving as Prefect. If there is a question about the authenticity of a student’s work, a teacher or a fellow student can bring it to me. At that point, Mr. Drahozal and I review it with the teacher to determine if it is something that should be reviewed by the Council.
Honor Council meetings are not attended by parents, but we do encourage students to bring an advocate with them such as their advisor or another faculty member. Throughout this current year, we have heard several cases ranging from plagiarized English papers and history assignments to copied math homework. Our current Council has had a great deal of experience in reviewing a variety of students’ work this year, including those from several teachers and different grade levels.
Occasionally, students and/or parents are concerned that there is an Honor Council meeting for an insignificant assignment such as a homework. One of the reasons for bringing back the Honor Council this year was to help guide our students to make proper choices throughout their high school career no matter the weight of the assignment. I have personally seen students fall down the slippery slope of copying a homework assignment, to cheating on a quiz, to plagiarizing a “short” paper, to ultimately plagiarizing a term paper. In these cases, the minor infractions were overlooked, and then suddenly we have a student who has not been held accountable for small things to getting harsh consequences for more drastic offenses. Our goal is to help curb the small infractions so that the student will not commit larger infractions. The Honor Council wants to make sure that students understand what they did and give them opportunities to learn and improve from there so that they don’t make the same mistakes again.
The Council allows both the student and the teacher opportunities to talk about the student’s work and for the Council members to ask questions for clarity. The existence of the Honor Council has allowed for cases of copied work, cheating, etc., to be treated more fairly because of the board; the review is consistent and objective. Prior to the Honor Council, the consequences of violating the Honor Code varied depending on the teacher and the subject. Under the current review system, the consequences range from 50% max on the assignment resubmission to 80% max on the assignment resubmission. All of the cases where a student has been found in violation of the Honor Code have resulted in a required resubmission of the work. There have also been a handful of cases this year where the student has been found not in violation of the Honor Code. In these cases, all information related to the meeting are destroyed. When students are found in violation, they are notified via private message; there is never a public announcement of any Honor Council meeting or the results of any meetings.
The Council has been brought back this year because MPA wants students to learn from their mistakes, to help guide them through the process and how to meet the expectations of different assignments. This guidance will ultimately help students as they do future assignments for that particular class, but more importantly for all of their future work.
By Emily Drown
Mrs. Drown is an Upper School science teacher and the Curriculum Leader for our Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Department.