Middle School Students Commit To Their Honor Code

Each year, students kick off their Middle School experience by learning about, or re-engaging with, the Middle School Honor Code. They gather together in community, assembling in Eliot Chapel, to hear from School leaders and their peers about what these four words mean: trust, respect, responsibility, and honor. After the assembly, each grade signs their own Honor Code poster, committing themselves to upholding these tenets and supporting each other throughout the school year. This year, Middle School students heard from Dr. Sally Maxwell, Assistant Head of School for Teaching and Learning; Jen Schuckman, Head of Middle School; Max Padratzik ’27; and Lilah Pronger ’27.

Here are their remarks.

Dr. Sally Maxwell, Assistant Head of School for Teaching and Learning

Good morning and welcome to the second week of school! I hope that you are settling into the new classes and new routines of your new grade. Beyond logistics and academics, the Middle School is first and foremost a community. We are a community of individuals who come from many directions and experiences. We all commit to taking care of ourselves and each other so that we can be a strong community. Part of that commitment is the Honor Code, which was written decades ago by the Middle School Student Council. It’s four simple and powerful words: trust, respect, responsibility, and honor. And you’ll find that most rules can all be boiled down to one of those four words.

Think for a moment about a rule you have heard from a parent, coach, or teacher. You can probably tie it back to our Honor Code. Play fair at kickball; only take one brownie; say please and thank you; read the directions; take care of your brother; don’t make a mess of the toothpaste. All of these statements expect us to understand that other people matter. We are all part of something bigger—a family, a team, a class, a school, a city—and are all expected to be positive contributors. At MICDS, we are upstanders, not bystanders. You will notice that we do not tolerate unkind treatment, selfish actions, hurtful language, or any other negative behavior that would cause another person to leave school not feeling like they are welcome.

We expect to hear “please” and “thank you” and “are you ok?” We expect that doors get held open and people volunteer to help each other. Last week I was getting a bunch of boxes out of a car and by the time I got to where I was going, someone had loaned me a handcart, someone else had helped me pull it up over a high curb, a third person was walking with me and carrying some of the stuff, and a fourth person held open the front door for me. We take care of each other and we also call each other out when we see someone who isn’t doing the right thing. We aren’t perfect, and we can all help each other be better. We all have moments when we aren’t living up to our best intentions because we’re not paying attention, we’re caught up in the swirl of negative emotions, or we have lost focus on what’s important.

When I was in fifth grade, I cheated on a math assignment. It was a word problem and we were supposed to calculate how many crows were in a tree. I couldn’t figure it out and I was getting frustrated. Mrs. Feldman had said that we could work with a partner, so I started going around and asking different students what they had gotten. Because, technically, she hadn’t said we couldn’t work with multiple people. That didn’t help because they all had different answers! So then I walked up behind her while she was helping another student and looked at the teacher’s edition of the textbook over her shoulder to see the calculations. She saw me and accused me of cheating, but I denied it and said that I just wanted to ask her a question. Mrs. Feldman said ok, but I could tell she didn’t really believe me. I felt terrible, ashamed. It seemed worse somehow that I hadn’t gotten in trouble. Even now, I don’t remember the problem or the math concept, but I remember how I felt and how I carried my feelings in my body: sweaty forehead, palms clenching my pencil, my throat feeling like it was constricting.

Now, as an adult, I look back on that moment and I take three lessons from it. First of all, you are always caught when you cheat because you know you did it and your own good opinion of yourself matters as much as anyone else’s, probably more. So even though I got away with it, I didn’t. Secondly, there is the right thing to do, the wrong thing to do, and then this murky gray area. Once you get in the gray area, the wrong thing to do gets closer. If I had just worked with one person like Mrs. Feldman intended, I probably wouldn’t have gotten all the way to cheating because I wouldn’t have been walking around the room. And finally, sometimes cheating is more work than learning, so what’s the point? I could have put my energy into figuring out the problem. That last reason is why trust, respect, responsibility, and honor are so essential for a learning community: when everyone is doing them, everyone can learn.

It is all about making good choices. You start your morning by deciding to respect the dress code. You walk all the way upstairs to return a book to the library because you want to be responsible and meet the due date so someone else can read it. You do the honorable thing and tell your teacher the truth about forgetting your homework rather than trying to copy your friend’s quickly before class. You don’t break a friend’s trust by spreading a rumor when you are angry at them. Middle school can be hard, confusing, and stressful at times. That is why we live by the simplest yet most understandable expectations: trust, respect, responsibility, and honor. So when you sign your name to the Honor Code, you are committing to make choices that uphold it. We believe in that commitment, we expect that commitment from each other, and when that commitment is broken, we find our way back to the Honor Code so we can move forward and grow towards our best intentions and our best selves. So remember…be good humans and…do the right thing…

Jen Schuckman, Head of Middle School

Today is an important rite of passage as we take this time to reflect on what it means to be a member of our community. We put this assembly on the calendar right at the start of the school year to be sure we honor this important legacy and move forward knowing very clearly what we can expect from each other. For those of you who have been here, you will recognize this message. And for those who are new to our middle school or new to MICDS, I hope that this helps you to further understand what our community is all about.

As you have engaged with our idea of LEAD in Middle School, you may have noticed that it aligns very well with our Honor Code in a way that identifies what it looks like in action. It gives us action verbs and descriptions that represent the pillars of trust, respect, responsibility, and honor. Hopefully, you can visualize what it means to be curious when discussing a current event in history class or to embrace the challenge of solving a difficult math problem that you haven’t seen before. And hopefully, you can see what it means to demonstrate collaboration as you create your skit in drama class. These actions all honor the culture of what it means to LEAD and how we expect you to navigate your learning and our community.

I would like to take a closer look at “Advocating for self and community” for a moment. This particular verb was deliberately chosen to illustrate what the Honor Code stands for. Advocating is not about sitting back or ignoring wrongdoings, or shortchanging your own needs. To advocate means to trust your relationships with teachers and peers so you can lean into the risk of making mistakes and asking questions. To advocate means to respect those around you with positive words and interactions. To advocate means to uphold your responsibilities of following the rules, taking care of our spaces, and doing what is asked of you. To advocate means to honor your own potential and the potential of those around you by contributing to a productive learning culture.

So let’s be clear…when you see our Honor Code in action, it is easy to identify and it generates a contagious sense of belonging and pride in who we are as a school.

  • It looks like patiently raised hands in class to clarify an answer.
  • It looks like the door being held open for others.
  • It looks like students seeking out teachers in Flex.
  • It looks like a high five when the problem gets solved.
  • It looks like helping someone who is lost.
  • It looks like losing a game at recess and congratulating the winner.
  • It looks like no one sitting alone at lunch.
  • It looks like making it to class on time.

And just as easily, I think we can all agree what it looks like when we fall short of this commitment.

  • this looks like eye rolling when you get a partner in class that might not be the easiest to work with.
  • this looks like stepping over trash in the hallway or not picking up spilled food in the cafeteria.
  • this looks like showing up in clothes that do not meet the expectations of the dress code.
  • this looks like gum being chewed in class.
  • this looks like the omission of please and thank you.
  • this looks like teasing, disrespect, and bullying.
  • this looks like judging others and making assumptions.

In our Middle School, these are not acceptable. In our Middle School, we should and will call each other out. In our Middle School, mistakes are made and we expect you to learn from them. In our Middle School, our Honor Code is our promise to each other. In our Middle School, we sign our names and commit to that promise. That is who we are and that is what sets us apart. Always be kind, always be good humans, and always do the right thing…

Max Padratzik ’27

Hello everyone! I am Max Padratzik and today I am going to be talking about two important parts of the MICDS Honor Code: trust and respect, two principles that we strive to live by daily. We are responsible for upholding these parts of the Honor Code because it will allow us to be in a cooperative environment in the classroom and on the field. From experience, when I am playing team sports and I know I can trust my teammates to make smart decisions, it allows us to be more cooperative which eventually leads to more success. The same thing can happen in the classroom when your teachers trust you to complete your work, you learn more which will ultimately lead to success because you have a wide range of knowledge. When you respect your opponents and teammates on the field, it makes for a more enjoyable game with less friction between everyone. This also transfers to the classroom where you are responsible for respecting your peers and teachers. This makes the class flow more smoothly giving yourself and everyone around you an opportunity to learn more. Not only will following the Honor Code now help you, but it will also transfer over later in life when you are applying for a job or trying out for a select team or whatever path you choose to follow. Thank you.

Lilah Pronger ’27

Hello, Middle School! My name is Lilah Pronger. I have a question for everyone: when you think of responsibility and honor, what comes to mind? For me, responsibility is a big role to have. As Spiderman once said, “with great power comes great responsibility.” As members of the MICDS community, we are asked to take charge of some great responsibilities. Some may be as little as coming to class on time, cleaning up the lunch room for other grades, and completing homework on time, while others may be as big as abiding by the Honor Code. It is very important that we follow all of these responsibilities that we are tasked with as MICDS students to make sure everyone has a safe and fun environment to learn in. When I think of honor, I think of showing I am a member of the MICDS community in a way that honors the School. For example, when I am playing lacrosse for MICDS on the field, I show sportsmanship and am kind. This shows honor for the School because it gives MICDS a good representation of its students and how we can all be leaders in classrooms and on sports fields. Thank you for showing responsibility and honor as an MICDS student!