Tales of Three House Systems
19 October 2008 (collegiateway.org) — House systems in middle and secondary schools are the school-level counterparts of residential college systems at the university level. Many of the recommendations offered here at the Collegiate Way can be applied to non-residential house systems with almost no alteration—if you’re a school teacher or principal exploring the house model, bookmark us and come back often.
The cross-sectional house model is catching on in middle and secondary schools in the United States and elsewhere even more quickly than the residential college model is catching on at universities, in part because the complications of residence are usually not involved. This trend shows, as is often emphasized here at the Collegiate Way, that the core of the collegiate idea is the membership unit, not the building.
Three encouraging stories have appeared in recent weeks documenting the creation of new house systems in schools in the United States and the United Kingdom, and I reproduce all of them below. The first appeared in the Tulsa World in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Positive Peer Power
Holy Family school divides students into houses based on the Oxford/Cambridge model.By SARA PLUMMER
Tulsa World Staff Writer, 9/16/2008
It’s not exactly like Harry Potter. There are no flying broomsticks or potions classes, but middle school students at Holy Family Cathedral School were sorted into houses this year and are working to earn points for them.
The house systems in Harry Potter, and at Holy Family, are based on the Oxford/Cambridge model.
At Holy Family, the 42 students in fifth through eighth grades are sorted into the school’s three houses, named after saints—St. John Bosco, St. Jude and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. Each house has its own color.
“The minute they are sorted into a house, they have a group of kids they can associate with,” Principal Jay Luetkemeyer said. “When you’re in fifth grade and you come into middle school, it’s a scary time. It’s a built-in system where there are people there to help them. It gives students the chance to help one another.”
Faculty and staff members spent 2 1/2 hours dividing the students, getting an even number of boys and girls and grade levels in each house before a sorting ceremony in August.
“We don’t put siblings in the same house,” Luetkemeyer said. “We give them a chance to shine on their own, stand out as an individual.”
Students are also earning points for their houses in ways including serving during Mass, winning monthly and principal challenges, achieving the honor roll, participating in sports or extracurricular clubs, reading Accelerated Reader books and practicing random acts of kindness, Luetkemeyer said.
Ann Parish, who has taught at Holy Family for seven years, said she wasn’t sure about the house system at first but has seen it have a positive impact on students.
“It’s causing a lot of them to step up to the plate,” Parish said. “Working together as a team, encouraging each other to get their work in. It’s using peer pressure in a positive way.”
Eighth-grader Paxton Baldwin, who is in the Jude house, said the system and the points are a good source of competition.
“If it’s a neck-and-neck battle, I figure everyone will race to get points,” he said.
Monica Hansen has been teaching at Holy Family for nine years and said the house system is making some students more outgoing.
“They’re meeting kids they normally wouldn’t associate with,” she said. “They’re starting to learn about each other.”
Lean Filart, a sixth-grader in the Bosco house, said he thinks the houses are cool.
“I think we’ll get to know each other more and stick together more,” he said.
Luetkemeyer said that in the house system, students see the strengths and talents of other people in other grades.
“The fifth-graders interact with eighth-graders in a positive way,” he said. “A fifth-grader can teach something to an eighth-grader and vice versa.”
Luetkemeyer said the program is still new and that the students still have questions, but by next year, they will be helping the incoming fifth-graders.
“The younger kids, fourth (grade) and younger, see this as something they get to do when they’re older,” he said.
THE SECOND STORY appeared in the Oxford Mail from Oxfordshire, U.K.
Four rivers running through Oxfordshire are uniting pupils at a secondary school.By Tom Shepherd
Oxford Mail, Friday, 10th October 2008
Gosford Hill School, in Kidlington, has brought in a house system to bring students from different years together and foster team spirit.
Staff, pupils and governors have all been allocated a house, from Cherwell, Evenlode, Thames and Windrush. Each house is made up of pupils from all seven year groups, aged 11 to 18.
Assistant headteacher Richard Belmont said previously only pupils from the same year group were in forms together.
He said: “The new system has really given the school an extra dimension. It creates a family feel. Each house has a nominated charity, for example.
“Students can also gain house points by taking part in extra-curricular activities or house sports. At the end of the year, we’ll add all the points up and award a house cup.”
Mr Belmont said the house system was still at an embryonic stage and students would help decide future developments.
Year 10 and 11 pupils said the new system, with some adjustment, had brought together pupils from different years.
Cherwell member Millie Herbert, 15, said: “Initially I didn’t like it – I preferred it the way it was before.
“But I think it’s been really good for the younger pupils.
“When you come to school for the first time, you don’t know anyone. It can be very scary.”
Evenlode member Lucy Briggs, 15, said: “It gets us to communicate with more people. Before you would only communicate with people in your own year.”
Thames member Sam Long, 15, said: “It got a mixed reception from some Year 11 pupils, but I’ve definitely noticed Year Seven pupils are more confident.”
Windrush member Jamie Drummond, 15, said: “At first I didn’t really think it would go well at all. I thought maybe it would fall apart and there would be little groups within the forms.
“But it’s working well now, better than I thought it would.”
Cherwell head and drama teacher Ellen Woodrow added: “The atmosphere in the school has changed. The corridors are much calmer and the children are working together.”
AND THE FINAL STORY was published in the Middlesbrough-Teeside Evening Gazette in the U.K.
Stokesley School Pupils Get SmartBy Joanna Desira
Evening Gazette, Oct 13 2008
PUPILS are turning heads in a North Yorkshire market town thanks to a smart new uniform.
Gone are the old sweatshirts pupils used to wear at Stokesley School.
Stokesley School Head Catherine Brooker with pupils Amy Preston, Tom Hargreaves and Katie Gledhill
Instead they are kitted out in a new blazer and dark skirt, for girls, or dark trousers, for boys.
But one of the most noticeable features is the different colour tie and trim on the jumper. The colours represent the house each pupil belongs to – another change introduced by headteacher Catherine Brooker.
When Mrs Brooker arrived at the school last year, she told the Evening Gazette her aims were to improve behaviour and raise standards. And she said people living in Stokesley had commented on how the pupils’ demeanour had changed since the new uniform was introduced.
The school is now split into six house groups of 150 pupils, with sixth formers acting as co-tutors by mentoring younger students.
Areas of the school are decorated in the colours of each house. And the houses compete against each other in events.
“Vertical” tutoring has also been introduced in the school for the new academic year, which means tutor groups contain a mix of pupils from Years 7 to 11.
Mrs Brooker said: “The previous uniform didn’t really represent the school we want to be now – the new uniform is much smarter.
“The blazer has the school motto ‘Being the Best We Can Be’, which is what we want for our students.
“We thought it was important to make a clear statement of what the school is about and what it means for our students.
“We are a big school and the house system means we are creating a sense of community.”
The students said they liked the new uniform and house system.
Tom Hargreaves, 15, from Hutton Rudby, said: “I’m quite impressed with the uniform but I was sceptical at first. I like the blazer – I feel like James Bond when I wear a blazer.”
Katie Gledhill, 14, from Hutton Rudby, said: “It makes you feel more positive and take pride.”
Amy Preston, 14, from Nunthorpe, said: “You feel especially proud outside of school like when you do sports and go to other schools.
“Before with the uniform it was, like, who’s that school? But now they look at us and say we know that school.
“The house system in school has brought us closer.”