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Jackson Academy Establishes Student-Led Honor Code

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When faced with a difficult moral or ethical decision, what rudder do students use for guidance? At Jackson Academy, students now have an Honor Code and Pledge.

The new student-governed Honor Code at JA expresses the values of the school community and helps students and adults strive toward personal honor and integrity in all dimensions of school life.

“An honor code is a statement about what this school community thinks about itself, and the standards to which it believes we all should be held accountable,” said JA Head of School Jack Milne, who helped spearhead the Honor Code at JA and at his previous educational institution, The Bolles School in Florida. “That is something a truly great school does, and what we will do if we believe in our mission of helping create lives of purpose and significance.”

A committee made up of students, faculty, parents, and administrators met during the fall 2017 semester to envision and develop the implementation of a formalized Honor Code. Three student members of the committee introduced the concept to students in eighth through twelfth grades at a convocation on Wednesday, January 23.

Honor Code and Pledge: As members of the Jackson Academy community, we will maintain the highest standards of integrity and respect while striving to achieve excellence in and out of the classroom. As such, on my honor, I will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.

Senior Class President and honor code committee member Dolph Maxwell told the assembly of students that rather than being merely a set of rules for students to follow, the Honor Code holds up a set of ideals to which each person in the community aspires, resulting in students who choose to do “what is right when nobody’s looking.” The ideals of integrity, respect, and excellence are at the heart of the code, to which each student will pledge as a member of the JA community.

Honor code committee member and Student Body President Emma Ward recalled her experiences at Camp Greystone in North Carolina as an example of how an honor code had already influenced her perspective. “An honor code produces people whom younger people can look up to,” Ward explained. “It is something to strive toward and results in truly great people with integrity.” Ward led the assembly through the ratification process to approve the proposal, which the student body and faculty solidly voted to adopt.

“I’m very proud of our student body for endorsing this,” said Dean of the Upper School Steve McCartney. Middle School Dean Matt Morgan agreed, noting that the student body has been working on “unpacking” the significance of the word “purpose” in the school’s mission. Morgan said that this honor code is “tangible evidence of the growth of the school in its character-ethical education journey.” He said the “common language, common feeling, and common motivation” help make the ongoing reflections about purpose and character real for students.

Students will take part in a signing ceremony February 14 where they will affix their names to an Honor Code Charter during a ceremony with special guest speaker Dr. Mark Keenum, president of Mississippi State University. Dr. Keenum will speak about the importance of an Honor System to the culture of a school.

The code and pledge with students’ signatures will hang in a prominent location of the school, said Avery Hederman, a student committee member who was instrumental in drafting the code. The signed document will be a daily reminder of the values sought in the classroom and in activities throughout the school community.

On January 24 following the student presentation, Milne presented JA’s Honor Code, Pledge and procedural system to the leaders of Jackson Area Association of Independent Schools at that organization’s monthly luncheon. Student leaders Dolph Maxwell and Emma Ward again joined Milne for the presentation, giving the independent school leaders examples of what the Honor Code meant to them personally and what they hoped it would mean for their school. Copies of the documents were given to the leaders of those schools in attendance.

The spirit of an honor code has been within the DNA of JA for decades, with students, teachers, and administrators espousing principles of integrity, respect, and excellence. Through community service, participation in numerous character education programs, chapel, student-led spiritual retreats, practices of integrity, respect, and excellence are well grounded. The Honor Code affirms those practices and presents the code’s ideals as the expectation for everyone in the community.

Bannerman Finds Joy in Mississippi, Teaching, and Challenges

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“I like to let them think I’m boring,” said Sara Bannerman. Describing her interests and activities, though, the ninth-grade honors English teacher rapidly dispelled any possibility of being referred to as “boring.” Bannerman’s day-to-day life, including experience in contact combat, fencing, photography, and music, rivals that of the literary characters she teaches students to understand and appreciate.

Born in Jackson, Mississippi, Bannerman said, “I left and came back to my roots.” Her family moved to Louisiana when she was 12 years old. Her father worked there as a petroleum engineering consultant for two years. The family then moved to the coast of Mississippi to be nearer to their extended family. When it came time for college, Bannerman returned to Jackson to attend Belhaven University.

Bannerman brought her own welcoming committee when she returned to Jackson. “My closest friends from every place I’ve lived ended up going to Belhaven,” she said. When not studying English, she taught herself upright string bass and explored every corner of campus alongside her friends. 

Her time at Belhaven changed the way she viewed literature. “I think I came to understand reading literature beneath the surface as opposed to just skimming the top, which is what I had always done,” she said. Studying under professors whose love of language and story infused their teaching pushed her to “find deeper meaning in the text.”

“I had never really planned to be a teacher; it was a really natural thing,” she said. After college she continued to study English in graduate school at Mississippi College. Bannerman worked at Starbucks for a time before being hired to write textbooks. In 2012, she began work as an adjunct professor at MC where she now teaches American, British, and World Literature.

Between teaching at JA and MC, Bannerman pursues her certification to teach krav maga, an Israeli form of contact combat. During the summer of 2016 she trained in Los Angeles at the same facility as Christian Bale’s daughter. He came to watch. She has studied fencing and Victorian post-mortem photography, and learned upright string bass on a whim.

From the intricacies of literature to running into celebrities, Bannerman’s life seems to be anything but boring. One day at Starbucks she heard a voice address her, “Don’t you just love vanilla lattes? I love vanilla lattes.” It was Rene Zellweger. From her seat at the coffee bar Bannerman replied, “Yeah, I do.”

Jack Milne Becomes Head of School

jack-milne-headshot-483x651Jack Milne assumed the role of Jackson Academy Head of School January 1. Jack came to JA on June 1 as Vice-President and Dean of School. Over the summer, he was named Head of School by the Board of Trustees following the announcement that former Head Cliff Kling had accepted an offer to lead the Gulliver Schools in Coral Gables, Florida.

“I am honored and excited about this new opportunity,” Jack said. “I sincerely believe that the best years of Jackson Academy are ahead, and I look forward with great anticipation to playing a part in helping advance the mission of the school in working with students to develop lives of purpose and significance.”

Jack and his wife, Caroline, live in the Sheffield community. “Caroline and I are so grateful for the enthusiastic welcome and support we have received from parents, staff, students, and our Sheffield Drive neighbors. We give thanks daily for our decision to come here to this great school and community.”

Jennifer Wahl Communicates Complex Mathematics

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Jennifer Wahl discovered her purpose in first grade. She would be a school teacher. For the next 15 years that dream persisted and became refined as she progressed through elementary, middle, and high school. Jackson Academy is glad to welcome Wahl’s focus and passion to our community as she teaches mathematics in the Upper School.

“You have to be careful because her mom makes the best cupcakes in the world and she can kill you with one finger,” a teacher at Winfield High School jokingly warned Wahl’s classmates. Wahl’s mother served in the Army Special Forces and specialized in hand to hand combat before opening a fabric store in Winfield, Alabama, where she and Wahl’s father raised their six children. Wahl’s father served in the Air Force and now works as a mechanical engineer.

Although she knew she would grow up to be a teacher, Wahl did not decide which subject-area would be her focus until her final year of high school. Several teachers helped her recognize her ability to communicate the complexities of mathematics. When her fellow students repeatedly asked for her to explain how to solve calculus problems they studied during her senior year the teacher finally told her, “They want you, not me. You’ve just got a knack for explaining it.”

Wahl studied math education at Auburn University and was in the Honors College all four years. She also worked in the career center as an employer relations student assistant. She met her husband, Stephen Wahl, a graduate of Jackson Academy, the night before Auburn would defeat Oregon in the 2010 national championship. They were married in December of 2014, after Stephen completed his first semester of medical school at the University of Mississippi. Wahl taught at Brandon High School from 2014 until 2017. While there, she took advantage of development opportunities and found her footing in the classroom.

Although Stephen’s match day may mean moving to a different city for the Wahls, for now Jennifer enjoys living close to his family and working at a school that feels like home. Her days start with an energetic group of humorous, interested students, and throughout the day Wahl is excited to visit with students between lessons. Wahl said, “From the first time I came here everyone was so nice I felt like I was already a part of the family.”

Students Tour Texas Colleges and Universities

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Students (from left) Garrett Clarke, Jarvon Gaines, Kelsey Ford, Max Rogers, and Elliott Butler toured several Texas universities together with Jackson Academy Counseling Department staff members. Not pictured: Sean Lackey.

 

As their bus pulled through College Station they watched the busy pace of a college campus. It is a pace that Garrett Clarke and Max Rogers will be diving into next fall as they enter college. For Jarvon Gaines, Kelsey Ford, and Elliott Butler there is still another year and a half at JA, but college decisions already loom on their horizons. Counselors Amy Bush, Paula Pratt, and Danny Robertson led the group through its three-day tour, guiding students to ask questions and observe different schools’ cultures.

“I think these kids realized, if they hadn’t before, that the town that the college is in is just as important as the college itself,” said Bush. “The surroundings and community play a big role in the campus, and vice-versa.” The students were interested in majors ranging from per-veterinary to petroleum engineering. Despite these differences, they agreed that experiencing the atmosphere and size of a campus was an integral part of discovering whether or not it was a good fit for them.

“I wanted to go the next day,” said Kelsey after visiting Texas Christian University. Perfect fall weather accompanied a great visit throughout their three days in Texas. Bush said, “There is no greater advantage to a student than being on the campus, getting to see what the school is like, what the school is about, because no two campuses are alike.”

For the seniors on the trip, the visit did exactly what it was meant to do: helped them move toward confidentially making a college decision. “We’re really close to deciding where we want to go,” said Garrett.

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