Charlie Brooks, a 17-year-old Gaithersburg High School student, spent last week babysitting an egg.

He was not the only one. For their final class project, Janet Kogut's junior and senior sociology students were each required to take care of at least one egg for seven days. The purpose of the assignment was to give them a feel for the kind of responsibility involved in taking care of a small child.

"If you drop an egg, it will have severe problems," Kogut said. If you drop a baby, it will, too.

When Kogut handed out eggs on Monday bearing her signature--so no one could substitute an egg--Brooks knew the rules:

For one week he would treat this egg as if it were his own baby. He would name it and keep it with him or arrange to have it looked after at all times. The only exceptions would be at night when he could put it to bed in the refrigerator and during gym and auto mechanics class when he could let it nap in his locker.

Unlike real life, if he broke it, he could get another, but each time that happened his grade would drop 10 percent. At the end of the project, he would give his egg back to Kogut, who would break it in the classroom wastebasket to make sure he hadn't cheated and hard-boiled it.

Brooks, who named his egg "Seymour Edwin," didn't run into trouble until Wednesday. That's when he found the ransom note in his locker and realized Seymour had been egg-napped.

"If you ever want to see me again, put $2 in a lunch bag where the swings are during lunch on Thursday," the note read.

Brooks panicked, but he followed the instructions and a blindfolded Seymour was returned to him at lunch by two girls Brooks had never seen before.

While Seymour was missing, Brooks felt depressed. "I was upset when he was gone," he said. "I put a lot of time into Seymour."

Like his classmates, Brooks decorated his egg. He drew a face on it, glued on hair and added a purple sweater.

Brooks was not the only sociology student to experience parental anxiety when separated from his egg-child. When Lorelei Cameron was hit by a car early in the week, the only thing she was upset about was dropping and breaking her egg.

On Thursday, with his grade dropping, Eric Selby was already on his third egg. He had dropped "Anthony Steven" when he was changing a tire on Monday. On Tuesday, another student broke Selby's second egg by mistake.

Selby became furious and started fighting with the guy in the classroom. "I went crazy," he said. "The teacher had to pull me off him."

Angel Wallace, a twin, decided to look after twin eggs, "Amber Leigh" and "Tobias Morgan." Things were going smoothly for Wallace until Tuesday when the twins slipped. But Wallace managed to save the situation with a little glue.

Patty O'Flaherty had a similiar scare with "Michael Patrick" on Thursday morning. That's when Mike took a spill and suffered a minor head injury--a slight crack on top--and had to be rushed to the school nurse for bandages.

Denis Superczynski took "Jefferson Albert" to work on Thursday night. While he cleared tables at the Bare Bones Restaurant in Gaithersburg, Jefferson, complete with Mohawk haircut, bow tie and red shoes, sat perched on the bar.

In addition to having her students take physical responsibility for their eggs, Kogut required them to find out how much time, energy and money it takes to care for a child during the first five years of life. A day after handing in their eggs, the students turned in reports with answers to questions like these:

What is the cost of the original hospital stay for a mother and her newborn baby? How many shots does a child need during the first 22 months of life? How many pairs of shoes and shoe sizes does a child go through during the first five years, and what does the shoe bill look like? What is involved in enrolling a child in elementary school?

When the project ended this week, Kogut said she was pleased with its results and planned to do it again next year. Despite the comical side to the assignment, she said she hoped her students had learned most of all that "being a parent is a very serious job not to be taken lightly."