According to Evie Reid (Education Week, June 2017), “Students pick up signals from their schools and peers about whether or not they belong, perceptions that can affect their success both inside and outside the classroom.” It is heart-wrenching to see students who try unsuccessfully over and over again to fit in at school or be accepted by their peers.
According to research, approximately 25% of students are involved in extra-curricular activities such as sports, clubs, or fine arts. HNGA strives to create an environment where every student belongs to something. To accomplish this, school administrators and teacher leaders ask tough questions. “How can we create a school where all students are actively engaged in learning and hate being absent?” and “How can we build self-confidence in all our students?”
In an effort to find answers to the above questions and to meet the needs of our students, our school instituted a school-wide House System. A house is much like a team, and the members of each house become very close-knit.
This year HNGA celebrates its five year anniversary of the House System. It serves as a year of reflection, a time to revisit the benefits and a time to celebrate our school’s successes.
The purpose of our House System is to:
· Create a sense of family, camaraderie and belonging for all students
· Create an avenue for consistent recognition and healthy competition
· Create excitement and a sense of pride in our school
· Create an environment where every child feels valued, nurtured, and loved
· Improve school engagement
The summer before a student’s 9th-grade year, every student is randomly assigned to one of six houses for the school year. Each house has its own name and meaning, Tiyaga means perseverance in Filipino; Respectus is Latin for respect; Bonté, which means kindness in French; Integridad, Spanish for integrity; Uaminifu which means loyalty in Swahili; and Zeren, responsibility in Chinese.
Students receive a letter over the summer with their house assignment and each student is given a House t-shirt on the first day of school. This helps create a sense of belonging from day one of the school year. Houses meet on the first day of school to learn about the House system, what their House name means, and how to model the characteristics of their House name. This is followed by an electrifying school-wide assembly where students sit with their new House and compete in a variety of fun and exciting competitions.
Throughout the school year, students meet with their Houses to learn how to become better citizens and develop skills and qualities that will benefit them for a lifetime. Students learn how to overcome obstacles, persevere, develop responsibility, strive for teamwork, make good choices, take ownership, give back, etc. In addition, emphasis is placed on soft skills like looking a person in the eye when being spoken to, giving a proper handshake, being dependable and punctual, leadership, problem-solving, and communication.
The House System is a year-long competition where students earn points for their House by passing all of their classes, making the honor roll, having good attendance, performing random acts of kindness, participating in community service, etc. In addition, a quarterly “Battle of the Houses” is held to keep the momentum going throughout the year. This includes a variety of competitions (sporting events, trivia, relay games, eating contests, etc.).
The HNGA House System also includes monthly attendance competitions where the House with the best attendance earns a special reward like making s’mores over a campfire, ice cream bar, cook-out lunch, etc. In addition, each month every student that has perfect attendance for that month is entered into drawings for prizes.
The culminating House event of the school year is a full day of celebration for the House with the most points at the end of the school year. This may include a special breakfast and lunch, field trip, on-site laser tag, inflatables, ice cream break, and of course plenty of candy and soft drinks.
The House System has evolved over the last five years and the benefits of having a House system have far exceeded our expectations. Student and teacher buy-in has increased every year. A common theme we hear from our former students is, “We miss the House System!”. It is exciting to hear our rising 9th-grade students say, “We can’t wait to be a part of the House System!”. This year, a parent said, “The House system is becoming a 9th-grade tradition and my elementary and middle school kids are already looking forward to it”. School engagement continues to soar as evidenced by our outstanding student and staff attendance. HNGA has become a consistent leader in the Pioneer RESA region and Habersham County School System for both student and staff attendance. In fact, over the past two school years, HNGA has had the highest student attendance of all the high schools in our RESA region.
This, in turn, has had a positive impact on our student achievement. When students are present and engaged, learning takes place. The percentage of HNGA students earning all four core academic credits and the required number of credits to be sophomores is nothing short of impressive. At the end of last school year, 100% of students earned the required five credits and 96% earned all four core academic credits.
Since the inception of the House System, HNGA has had a lot to celebrate. In 2015, HNGA’s CCRPI score of 71.8 ranked 19th when compared to the other high schools in the Pioneer RESA region. In 2019, HNGA ranked 2nd with a score of 87.2. Not only has HNGA shown growth compared to other high schools in the region, but our ninth-graders have also shown significant progress on the Georgia Milestones.
In 2014-2015, 32% of freshmen were proficient or above on the Physical Science End of Course test. In 2018-2019, 55% of freshmen demonstrated mastery at the proficient level or above. In the same timeframe, students in 9th Grade Literature have grown from 32% proficient and above to 50%. We know that our growth in recent years cannot be entirely attributed to the House System, but because it is at the core of everything we do, we do feel like it has been a principal catalyst for HNGA becoming one of the premier high schools in the region.
Not only have our teachers and students bought into the House concept, but our local business community has also contributed monetarily to help provide House shirts for our students each year. Businesses such as our local McDonalds’, HEMC, Peach State Credit Union, Fender’s Diner, Anderson Carpet, The Torch, Hayes Chrysler Dodge Jeep of Baldwin, and Georgia Farm Bureau have all contributed to and supported the HNGA House System.
The HNGA House System has brought a sense of fun and excitement to our school and made our school a place where students and staff want to be. Moving forward, HNGA plans to continue to improve the House concept, make any changes necessary to meet the needs of students, and provide the support they need to experience success during their freshman year of high school.
This blog was written by Dr. Connie Franklin. Dr. Franklin has over 20 years in education with 15 years as a school administrator at the middle school and high school levels. Before moving into administration, Dr. Franklin taught business education and was an instructional technology specialist.