Sixth graders at Founders Classical Academy of Leander eagerly anticipate the spring semester. That is when they get sorted into the house they will stay in until they graduate. Once they are sorted, their performance in athletics and academics as well as behavior can either earn or lose their house points.
Named after a leading figure in the different subject areas, the six houses (Herodotus for history, Shakespeare for literature, Beethoven for music, da Vinci for art, Newton for science and Euclid for math) help structure the school and create an accountability system, says Caroline O’Brian an upper level math teacher at the school and house mentor to the house of Euclid.
“Each house has a head girl and boy as well as a house mentor and other supporting teachers, this allows for a lot of accountability because someone is always looking out for the students. Our older students mentor our younger students and our students get to know their teachers outside of class,” said Ms. O’Brien.
The friendly competition between the different houses is called the Archer games. While the Archer games last the whole school year, at the end of the year they have a big event with athletic and academic competitions through which students can earn points for their houses.
Throughout the year each house meets every other week to receive announcements, plan events, brainstorm service projects and address any behavior issues. Each house is also responsible for hosting different events during the year such as dances or talent shows.
“It has been a great way to give students responsibilities and allow them to take on leadership roles. I chose my head boy and girl based on their ability to lead their fellow students, but also by how they build relationships with students across the grades,” said Ms. O’Brien.
Senior Jazmin Gudino is the head girl for the house of Euclid, and in her two years at the school she has really appreciated how the house system builds the school community.
“I really like that it brings the grades together. Normally you wouldn’t have much contact with students in different grades, but because we have the house system I talk to students in seventh and eighth grade. It creates a lot of school spirit, and we are all encouraging each other,” said Jazmin.
Other schools have followed Founders Classical Academy of Leander’s example and started their own version of the house system. Launched last year in an at-risk community, Founders Classical Academy of Mesquite saw the need for student buy-in. The Assistant Headmaster Kiernan Schroeder says introducing the house system near the end of last school year has had positive results.
“The buy-in this year has been significant. It has gone beyond a positive behavior enforcement to helping students gain an identity and place in the school. This is really important because classical education can be challenging, and you need a support system of your classmates and teachers,” said Ms. Schroeder.
The Mesquite campus’ program mirrors Leander’s program with a head boy and girl, teachers in each house, house sponsored events and house competition. However, because Mesquite does not yet have a high school, students are sorted in Kindergarten at the beginning of the spring semester.
Rather than following the Leander campus in naming houses for different subject areas, the Mesquite campus named them after Greek virtues. Each house also has a guardian from history or literature that exemplifies the virtue of the house. So a student could be sorted into a house named Sophia for wisdom with the guardians Odysseus and Penelope from Odyssey or Andreia for courage with Lucy and Peter from Chronicles of Narnia as guardians.
Only with the exception of an impartial headmaster and assistant headmaster, everyone on the campus is sorted into a house and actively supports their house. Even the secretary wears her house colors on spirit day.
Ms. Schroeder says having a sense of belonging has really helped students grow in confidence as well as virtue.
“Just recently the head of Sophia told me about a student in her house who had been upset when he was first sorted because he thought he couldn’t be a winner and would let down his house. He was recently behaving poorly in a house meeting so she pulled him aside to tell him that he has to be a leader in his house and show wisdom. He immediately said ‘you are right. I am Sophia, I need to show wisdom and be respectful,’” said Ms. Schroeder.
While the house system sorts students into separate groups, Founders Classical Academy of Leander junior Shane Carpenter says students remain united across the houses.
“There is a special connection to your house, but in the end we are all still Founders. There is always competition, but what is most important is how strong we can be as a whole, across grades and houses,” said Shane.
Both schools have found the house system supports virtue, community, academic motivation, mentoring, positive school environment and discipline. While they are still refining the system to best strengthen their individual schools, students and teachers have responded positively. Encouraged by their success, the new Founders Classical Academy of Schertz is also considering implementing the house system.