During testing week this past April, we purposefully organized two activities for our Upper School students, something different and interesting, led not primarily by me but by our own 11th-12th graders. Each day, students worked, not by grade level, but divided into groups vertically instead of horizontally, comprised of students across the grade levels.
The Tuesday of testing week, each group worked to create a Veritas infomercial; the Thursday, they designed strange relays for our first Circus Minimus, in which they competed the following week. Our 11th-12th graders led the efforts, helping on Tuesday in designing and directing the infomercial and on Thursday in planning the relay stations.
These activities were fun and engaging, a chance to take a break from testing, work together, and accomplish something as a group beyond just a grade. And while these activities were designed to be enjoyable as isolated events, their deeper purpose was to introduce students to an exciting new element of our future Academy of Classical Christian Studies experience: a house system.
House systems have a long history in English schools, especially English boarding schools, but they have also come to be a common and central aspect of school culture in many classical and Christian schools, including Providence Hall. House systems organize students in the vertical integration our Upper School students experienced during testing week.
Without such integration, classes often develop their own identities, own cultures. While this is natural and good in many respects, the classes can develop cultures often different, distinct, and separate from other classes. These identities are driven not just by the personalities of those in the class but by the natural inclinations and aptitudes, both academic and moral, pertaining to ages and stages in development.
Thus, while students bond together, they maintain a separation by age level, capitalizing on neither of two desired dynamics in any community. The first, a sense of natural leadership, service, encouragement, yes, even admonishment, from elder to younger. The second, a sense of natural reception of encouragement and service and a striving for emulation of those qualities of Christ-like leadership from younger to elder.
The houses, then, function much as families within a larger church body. They are a place for specific, intentional relationships and activities, ranging from games and competitions, physical and academic, to service projects, to festivals and feasts. Those are the formal activities; the informal are more the goal, motivation, and end, to help foster a vibrant school community of mutual respect, service, and love.
For the 2013-2014 year, we will implement the house system in our Upper School (grades 6-12), and are evaluating how best to extend it to our Grammar students. This is an exciting development in the life of our school, so look for continued announcements, updates, and clarifications as we prepare for next year.
(For more on Providence Hall's use of a house system, click to watch Providence Hall Head of School Nathan Carr describe their experience.)