While school “houses” are well-known across Europe and have been popularized in film, community-building house systems are steadily making their way across the pond to American schools. Mount Paran Christian School finished another year of its middle school House system and shares lessons learned, key wins, and future plans for the program.
A "HOUSE" MAKES A HOME
After years of research, Mount Paran Christian School implemented a House system for its 300 middle school students a few years ago. Through visits to other schools with house systems, MPCS administrators learned that the program can elevate culture and community. As such, Mount Paran Christian School created five distinct Houses, sorting all students and middle school faculty equally. Each House is distinct with unique Bible verses, House colors, and Latin names: Aequitas, Chara, Gratia, Phileo, and Veritas.
Though a House system brings substantial benefits to the student body and school atmosphere, running such a program takes a large amount of both human and capital resources, planning and time, and lots of energy to motivate students.
DEVELOPING STUDENT LEADERS
When schools create new programs that are intended to be academic pillars, it’s critical the programs are implemented well and are continuously evaluated. This ensures future success and affirms that the program continues to benefit students. For instance, from the outset, each MPCS House was led by two House Deans, selected from the faculty, as well as two student leaders, a chaplain, and a “spirit” leader. After the first year of the program, the focus shifted from faculty-led activities guided by the House Deans to student-led programming. Faculty each remain assigned to one of the five Houses and provide mentoring to their House members, but developing student leaders drives the House system.
After preparing speeches and making presentations to the entire House, the new leaders were selected by the members of their House. With the addition of a year-long leadership class for the twenty eighth-grade House leaders, students have taken the reins and assumed ownership of House block activities. This ensures buy-in: students are planning activities they and their peers will enjoy, while helping these middle schoolers become more effective leaders. With guidance from the leadership class teacher, these emerging leaders practice the art of brainstorming; design activities following rules and guidelines; plan event logistics, accounting for campus space planning and various group sizes; communicate with all parties; and run the activities they’ve created.
This process yields student leaders who are excited, practice empathy, seek feedback, collaborate with one another, and collectively problem-solve. Most importantly, these eighth-graders are learning to be servant-leaders for their peers, demonstrating the love of Christ by seeking to create a positive experience for all. This creates what one House leader describes as “a sense of purpose and belonging, like you are a part of something bigger than yourself.” Aequitas House leader K. Lee says the House system “strengthens relationships with people with whom you wouldn’t normally interact.” This sense of community and relationship-building is a core element of the House system.
As students took more ownership of the House program during its second year, students sensed the impact of this change. C. Broggi, a rising eighth-grade Phileo House leader, stated, “I really wanted to become a House leader because I wanted to get the chance to lead my House in a Christ-centered and competitive way. The current House leaders set such an example to me on how to be a humble, hardworking, and Christ-like leader to others, and I want the chance to lead in that way so that I can set an example to the other students.”
LISTENING AND LEARNING
Each week, students engage in a 35-minute “House block”, a time for various House activities and competitions. In year two of the MPCS House program, activities ramped up. Creating a balance between events was always important for the student leaders as they were mindful about providing diverse activities that appealed to athletes, scholars, and artists. Competitions included an epic cardboard canoe race across the campus lake, a legendary Christmas lip sync contest, and even gaming activities such as Mario Kart tournaments and a Minecraft building competition.
By surveying their fellow House members and offering options for participation, House leaders were able to group students into activities that catered to their interests. If a student wanted to be part of painting a House mural instead of playing dodgeball, they had that option. By allowing students to pick between several activities that took place simultaneously over the span of a 4-5 week class period, more students looked forward to the weekly House block activities.
In addition to the weekly House block, there is also a weekly 25-minute Crew time when Houses break into smaller advisory groups consisting of eight to twelve students of the same grade and gender and a House teacher who mentors their Crew for all three years of middle school. These small groups provide a time for reflection on chapel, discussion about peer issues, prayer for one another, and developing deeper bonds. Rising eighth-grade Chara House leader L. Brumby shared, “Crew really adds to the family and friendship aspects of the House system.”
BRINGING STUDENTS TOGETHER
As MPCS continues to develop the House system, the focus will remain on developing student leaders, creating fun and engaging activities for the entire middle school student body, and building relationships and community one House block, one collaborative activity, one Crew meeting at a time. Although it takes time and energy to build and adjust a House system, the feeling among staff and students is that it’s worth it.
“The House system benefits our school the most in the aspect of fellowship,” said E. Howren, rising eighth-grade Veritas House leader. “I have become friends with so many different people because of the house system. It has brought so many people together, and I think it is a great fit for MPCS!”
Jeff Diggle is the MPCS Middle School Dean of Students. A veteran educator, Mr. Diggle graduated from Cedarville University with a degree in Middle Childhood Education and concentrations in Science and Math and a minor in Bible before embarking upon his 20-year career. He completed his Master of Education in Curriculum Development and Instruction through Indiana Wesleyan University.
Want to learn more about building community in the middle school years? Click here to learn more about the MPCS middle school House system.