Community, purpose and responsibility are just some of the lessons for students.
To make the transition from elementary to secondary easier, a Mississippi school district’s middle school is utilizing a unique system to give students a sense of purpose, community and responsibility.
Long Beach Middle School’s administration got the idea to implement the Ron Clark Academy House System after touring a private school where its successes were on display, said Principal Johanna Hughey.
Similar house systems have been implemented in other Mississippi school districts, with many of them at the elementary level.
In 2019, the RCA House System became part of the Long Beach Middle School. It works kind of like the house system in the fictional Harry Potter series, but instead of a talking hat choosing the house, students pick a wrist band from a box. About 90 students are in each of the school’s five houses.
“We want to create experiences for the students to look back on and think it was fun,” said Hughey.
Students are placed in their houses at the beginning of their 7th grade year and then participate in monthly meetings and house rallies each nine weeks.
Teachers and administrators are also assigned to a house for the duration of their career, establishing a sense of belonging for the children who are in the same house. As students walk the halls, they can identify a teacher’s house by the small flags that adorn the door to each classroom.
Each house features a crest that defines that house’s animal, color and words of pride.
English Language Arts Interventionist Mary Woodruff said most of the house names are Latin in origin, but some come from other languages. House names include Paratum, Quantum, Mutunci, Fidum and Nitimini.
Similar to how houses work in the Harry Potter series, students earn points for their house through challenges, grades, events and behavior. Points can be earned for being on the honor roll, not being referred to the office for bad behavior and not having any unexcused absences, Guidance Counselor Lisa Starita said. The points system also allows the students see how their actions affect others, giving them a sense of community.
Houses also engage with the larger community through fundraisers or gathering donations for a cause. By giving them a sense of connection, students behave better and work harder.
“Students don’t want to disappoint teachers they like,” Starita said.
Since the implementation of the house system student misbehavior has declined. In the first year it was implemented, office referrals dropped drastically.
Being in a house also allows every student to take on a leadership role. Woodruff said most house leaders she has seen are not the popular kids in school.
Even though the students only attend the middle school for 7th and 8th grades, they carry the connection built by the house system into high school.
“We say five houses, one family, and that’s what we mean,” said Starita.
While the high school does not officially participate in the house system, Woodruff said the graduating class that attended the middle school in 2019 will walk the halls of Long Beach Middle School wearing the house pins they were assigned years ago.
Initially, some parents expressed concern about the system. But through a modified open house called “Crash The House,” the parents were presented with the opportunity to see how the houses work, and how participation in the system can help their child succeed in the school. “Crash The House” lasts longer than a regular open house, because the event puts parents in the same houses as their children before sending them on a tour of the school. During the tour parents visit stations where they meet teachers and learn about each house from the school’s students.
Today, it’s been accepted by the adults so well that they buy multiple house shirts for their children and themselves, Starita said.