At the end of every semester students and faculty from Founders Classical Academy of Leander gather for two days to compete in and cheer on their classmates in the Archer Games. Created in May of 2015 as a culminating part of the school’s house system, the games are now an anticipated part of the school year.
Headmaster Kathleen O’Toole believes the games help encourage a positive school spirit across the grades.
“It is really about building relationships between students in the houses. During the games, their house’s reputation is on the line. They have to step up to compete or cheer their housemates on as they represent the school,” said Dr. O’Toole.
The Archer Games first evolved from the school’s house system. As a way to create school community, the school sorts students at the end of sixth grade into one of the six houses: Herodotus, Shakespeare, Beethoven, da Vinci, Newton and Euclid. Supported by a teacher mentor and a head boy and girl, students stay in their assigned house until they graduate.
While only the seventh through twelfth grade students compete, the lower school students also come to cheer on their favorite house. Since siblings are all sorted into the same house, some of the younger students know which house to cheer on. Sixth grader Sofia Williams doesn’t have any older siblings, but she still enjoys cheering on all of the houses.
“I like watching them compete because it is really cool to see everyone from the oldest to the youngest competing. You get to think about what you might possibly do when it is your turn. It is really exciting. I think it also helps you bond together from all grades, and you get to meet new people,” said Sofia.
The academic portion of the competition is set up as an arena-style quiz bowl. Teachers submit questions based on what the students have studied over the semester. From art and Latin to math and literature, all of the subjects are represented. Students have 30 seconds to submit their answers.
With questions specific to each grade, house mentor of Herodotus, Stephanie McIntyre says there is a real strategy to the games.
“The questions are often grade-level specific. So it is important to have an ‘expert’ from each grade level. However, you also want students who are strong in the different subjects. I try to balance all that with making sure all of my students have a chance to compete because in the end it is about fun and coming together as a team,” said Dr. McIntyre.
Senior Natasha De Virgilio from the house of Euclid says the academic games are her area of strength.
“I really like the competition because you get to see the strengths of other students. During the school year you get caught up in your own classes, but the games give you the chance to see there are a lot of other kids here who are also learning a lot of cool things,” said Natasha.
Each year the athletics segment of the games changes. From basketball to ultimate frisbee and dodgeball, they look for games that can include most of the students.
“In recent years we have tended away from traditional sports. Since it is really about that camaraderie, sports that level the playing field across the grades are great. In this year’s dodgeball competition it wasn’t the athletes who lasted until the end. It was a little seventh grader against a senior who had never played sports for the school. It was wonderful to see everyone on their feet cheering those two on,” said Dr. O’Toole.
This year was math teacher Cameron Starc’s first experience with the games. New to the school, he has not yet been assigned to a house, but he appreciates the spirit of the games.
“I think a healthy competition is really good. To have an academic and athletic component is important. As a high-level math teacher there are certain things you can’t really spend a lot of time on during the school year. So when you have a competition that allows students to approach a challenging question without background knowledge, it motivates them to learn more,” said Mr. Starc.
Beyond encouraging students to learn, the Archer Games have helped the school build a strong community.
“I think it is worth taking two days to build the camaraderie. School is not just about academics. It is good for kids to learn at an young age to be part of something bigger than themselves and to work with other people. I see in our school such a positive culture and I think it is because of the games. No one group or event can unite the kids as well as the Archer Games do,” said Dr. McIntyre.