Meade High School teacher Frank Roush hopes students will find peace in a 4-by-6-inch card.
About 750 students have signed the white cards, vowing to talk out their differences instead of raising their fists. They make the pledge four times a year, at the beginning of each marking period. They get an award -- a T-shirt or a coupon at a fast food restaurant -- for each period without problems.
Mr. Roush, the junior ROTC instructor, came up with the idea five years ago after he was beaten up trying to stop a fight between two students. He suffered cuts to his forehead and bruises to his back, and missed a week of school.
"That woke me up," said the 59-year-old retired Army master sergeant. "I saw violence in this school and it happened to me."
Mr. Roush tried unsuccessfully to enlist the support of other teachers and the community.
It was only after school librarian Donald Gobbi was knocked unconscious last year that the peace pledge was given a chance.
On Sept. 30, 1994, a melee broke out between black and white students in a second-floor hallway, and Mr. Gobbi went to break it up. He was knocked to the ground, pummeled and kicked until he was unconscious.
"Seconds after the fight, I saw a body on the floor," recalled Mr. Roush, who was the first teacher to help Mr. Gobbi. "His eyes were rolled back, his arm and leg twisted. I thought he was dead. I was crying. Don was crying."
Mr. Roush and Mr. Gobbi had been working at Meade High for 17 years. Along with a social studies teacher, the colleagues were known as "the three amigos."
Seventeen students were suspended after the brawl, including five who were convicted as juveniles on assault charges and sentenced to juvenile detention centers. Mr. Gobbi, who has not returned to school, walks with a cane. He has filed a $4.5 million law suit against the students who hurt him.
"He just got beat senseless. For what? He was just doing his job," Mr. Roush said. "With the peace pledge, we hope never to have this incident again."
Mr. Roush got the program off the ground in March. Sir Speedy Printing in Hanover donated the 2,000 white cards with rainbow-colored peace logos. Fort Meade made T-shirts, and Wendy's, Roy Rogers and McDonald's gave coupons for free burgers and shakes.
Since the peace pledge began, the number of fights at Meade has dropped from 18 to 11 a month, said Mr. Roush.
"It's a great idea. It gets students involved and makes students think a little. It's like a promise," said Jessica Morales, 17, vice president of Student Government Association, which voted unanimously to support the program. "It also shows school spirit -- that we care."
Not all of Meade's 1,700 students have faith in the pledge.
"It's an idea. Work? I doubt it," junior Uriah Robins, 16, said yesterday during lunch. He and five other friends said they signed the pledge but didn't think it would make a difference.
Mr. Roush hopes to get more merchants to help so that he can spread the peace pledge to the elementary and middle schools in the Meade feeder system.
"The peace pledge is not a cure-all," he said, "but I believe it will work."