The House System: Fostering Belonging
Fostering relationships across grades is a unique and important aspect of the community at Whitefield Academy. Whether it’s the buddy system between Kindergarten and Fifth Grade, an upper school buddy class planning activities for their lower school counterpart on All School Games Day, mixing grades up at lunch tables, or the seniors escorting the Pre-K kids down to their classroom for Pre-K Round Up, mixed grade relationships are actively and intentionally pursued.
The House System
One of the most fun and competitive ways that students at Whitefield are encouraged to interact with other grades is through the upper school house system. There are four houses, each named for an author (Homer, Virgil, Dante, and Milton), each given a color (Blue, Red, Green, and Purple), a mythical creature (Gryphon, Dragon, Stag, and Unicorn), and a cardinal virtue (Fortitude, Justice, Temperance, and Prudence). Students are assigned to a house when they enter the upper school either as a seventh grader or as a new student. If students have a sibling in one of the houses (or a parent who is a teacher) they are placed in the same house. Otherwise students are evenly dispersed among the houses. A traditional feature of the first week of school in the upper school is the “House Chapel” where new and incoming students are announced into their new houses while incumbent house members cheer wildly and slap high fives. It’s a rite of passage that proclaims loudly, often in deafening tones, and clearly that the student is accepted and loved by their new community.
The houses act as home bases for the students and also provide a context for the upperclassmen to exercise leadership. Often at retreats students are grouped for discussion by houses; this allows time for younger students to learn from and be mentored by older students. Seventh grader Sarah Swift explains, “It provides a natural way to get to know upper schoolers, and it’s fun and encouraging!” The upperclassmen are encouraged to look out for everyone in their house and model good sportsmanship, being supportive of all students. A bonus it that it’s a great set-up for siblings to interact in positive ways outside of their homes.
Some Friendly Competition
The houses also provide a framework for service and healthy competition. Each week a different house is assigned to clean tables in the cafeteria after lunch. Teachers and parents like how the service encourages servant hearts, but the students seem to like the competition across houses the most. The annual upper school Fall Retreat features an afternoon of house games (volleyball, soccer, ultimate frisbee, and chess among others) and at the end of the retreat one of the houses is crowned the retreat champion.
Across Grade Lines
The student culture at Whitefield is really special; students from all grades interact in love and respect for each other. The house system is not only a chance to foster this but to “pass it on” by example as the younger students watch and experience the care and love of their older classmates. “The house system provides a sense of community outside of our classes,” says Sam Thalmann, a Whitefield senior. Not only does it connect students across grades but it connects teachers with different students as well. “The occasions when we have house games or other activities provides an opportunity for me to connect with students I don’t currently teach,” says Mrs. Katie Theiss, seventh and eighth grade English and Humanities teacher.
Just because a school is small, it is not guaranteed that the community will be close-knit. Building a strong community takes intentionality on the part of the students, the faculty and staff, and the parents. This house system is just one of the ways that Whitefield actively pursues tight relationships.
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