The three R's are making room for a fourth: resolution.
JTC Westminster High School students will get a contract on the first day of school tomorrow. The contract is a symbol to illustrate how students, staff and parents need to work together to make the school a safe place to learn.
The contract doesn't create any rules. Students already receive a handbook, but it's 45 pages long. The contract is one page.
"This is really more a PR push to what we've been doing," Westminster High principal Sherri-Le W. Bream said.
The students are to take the contract home and discuss it with their parents, who have been alerted in a letter from the principal. Parents and students are to sign the contract, and students are to return it to school.
"I will tell my peers to seek adult assistance when conflict situations get out of control," the first line of the student obligations reads.
"If I see a gun or weapon on campus or at a school event, I will alert an adult about its existence." Students also agree not to carry weapons.
Parents are asked to support the school and to teach their children to solve conflicts without violence.
Ms. Bream said she knew of no guns in school last year, and incidents of weapons possession declined.
But the contract's "main emphasis really isn't on weapons," Ms. Bream said. "We're trying to be pro-active here. We're trying to help kids learn to deal with conflict.
"We're telling them to go and let someone help you settle that dispute. Don't muscle them around."
The WHS School Improvement Team of teachers, parents and students came up with the contract after seeing a model presented by the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
The team adopted a modified version of the model. The national principals group made a "weapons contract" that focused on guns and knives. The Westminster High School contract goes a step further to cover the more common but less serious arguments.
In the past, students who got into fights got a stern talking-to from the principal and a suspension.
"Instead of the whole thing being a punishment approach, it's more focused on skills and strategies, so it doesn't happen again," said Barry Weidner, social studies teacher and chairman of the School Improvement Team that wrote the contract.
Now, students will get a lesson in conflict resolution. Plans are to set up a team of students as "peer mediators" by next semester. The students would be trained to help other students resolve a conflict.
It's an approach already used at North Carroll High and East Middle schools, and in a few other schools around the state.
Westminster High will hold a daylong symposium on conflict resolution Jan. 17. Students will go to assemblies and then back to class to discuss the topics.
The peer-mediator and conflict resolution concepts grew from a practice used in Quaker schools, which stress nonviolence, Mr. Weidner said. In the past three years, many public schools have been using the approach.
Ms. Bream said employers are asking the schools to prepare students to solve conflicts as employees.
"They pretty much agree that kids can read and write, but what they talk about is the poor work ethic," Ms. Bream said. A poor work ethic, the employers say, includes arguing with fellow workers.
Although weapons are not the problem at Westminster that they are in urban schools, Ms. Bream said, the contract makes it clear to students that no weapons will be tolerated.
She and Mr. Weidner said it was important that students have a way to report weapons without having to walk into the principal's office. They can discreetly tell a teacher, who will alert the principal.
Mr. Weidner said he attended a conference in Baltimore County recently in which about 40 students from across the state were asked whether they would report a classmate with a weapon.
They all said they wouldn't. The adults were shocked and wanted to know why, Mr. Weidner said.
"For most, it was fear of retribution, looking bad," he said.
When the same students were asked whether they would want the principal to know about a weapon, they all said yes.
"Kids are sort of reluctant to turn each other in, but there's this thing about weapons: Kids just don't want weapons in schools," Ms. Bream said.