MANCHESTER – Building connections in school can be a colorful experience. An innovative new program – that borrowed some inspiration from Harry Potter – is now expanding to another school.
Last year, the Ridgeway Elementary School introduced a House System to their school community. The purpose of the House System is to build a strong sense of connection throughout the school among all students.
Kerry Young, Ridgeway’s vice principal and Dr. Christoper Ott, the vice principal of the middle school spoke with The Manchester Times about the initiative.
Young had brought the idea to the district last year and this year it was kicked off at the middle school. “The project really found its home with something I was working on as a new vice principal. One of the requirements of the state is to do a mentor program and with this one you have to come up with an action research project and find something that your school needs.”
“I did some heavy digging to figure out what we’d benefit from and in working with the staff and listening to our students after the pandemic, many of our students were lacking that sense of belonging and connecting – and even our staff was feeling that way,” she said. “We felt some of the fun in schools had disappeared because things had become very rigid in the way education and learning had taken over.”
Young said, “now that we have returned to a more traditional style of learning we were ready to be connected and get that sense of belonging so my project really focused on improving the school culture and building character and promoting a culture of belonging.”
She said the new plan should sound familiar with those who have read the Harry Potter books or watched the films. “When Harry goes to Hogwarts, he and his peers are in certain houses. It is the same concept here in that all of our staff and all of our students are sorted into different houses. Those houses are beyond having your classroom teachers but to really build community across the building,” Young said.
He added that students meet up with “teachers you work with every day but you build a relationship with several others from across the building. It is a really cool concept.”
During House meetings, students have the opportunity to interact with each other and partake in activities with students and staff. These days are designed with the idea of having fun. “We have five houses and we researched what character words our students would benefit from hearing. We identified those five words and that is what our houses are,” she added.
“With each house we assign a color and within the house we created smaller teams because it is really hard to get together a group of 80 children that gets together once a month. I get them together in a smaller team and the team is about 20 students and six grade levels. This way kindergarten students are being mentored by 5th graders. Across grade levels these kids are building connections,” she added.
Young said, “the houses kicked off last January and it has been an incredible success. Our staff absolutely love it. Our kids love it and it really has a promoted a sense of school pride and sense of belonging.”
“Now this initiative has extended to the township’s middle school and it was launched recently to the delight of students and teachers. They really love every moment of it,” Young said.
Ott said, “part of it to is a natural movement as well to adopt more positive behavior and the house system is one that is very popular right now.”
“As we come out of this post Covid pandemic world we have to focus not just on the academics but some of the soft skills and some of the social emotional competencies that we find students across the board are lacking,” he added.
Ott added, “it gives the kids a time to have conversations and I think my generation took that for granted. We wanted to continue on with those social emotional skills.”