It’s not Hogwarts, but there’s definitely magic in the air at Mason Middle School. This year, the school’s 1,800 seventh and eighth graders and 130 staff members have been sorted into houses and families.
Unlike traditional homerooms where students are separated according to grade level, the families and houses are a mix of students from seventh and eighth grades. The new house system aims to improve school pride and the bond between students, teachers and staff. Like the houses found in the popular Harry Potter books, each house has its own color and motto. But unlike the fictional Hogwarts School of Wizardry, the 150-student houses at MMS are more connected to Comets – with space themes. The 12 MMS houses are Aero, Celestial, Cosmos, Galaxy, Galileo, Helio, Luminosity, Odyssey, Quasar, Solara, Super Nova, and Zenith.
With three days of school under their belts, students participated in their first house-wide competition on August 14. Fantastic weather and an infectious energy made the House Induction Kickoff event a complete success as students participated in team-building and leadership activities that included low ropes courses, a tug-o-war challenge, and a visit from the Cone. The Kick-off activities were funded through a grant from the Mason Schools Foundation.
“The entire House System has been such a wonderful addition to MMS! The best part of all - the eighth grade students stepping up and helping out our new seventh graders in ways far beyond what I could have ever imagined. This has been my favorite start to the year, by far! We can't wait for all of the Family/House activities we have planned for the rest of the year!” said Laura Tonkin, MMS eighth grade teacher, and one of the House System leaders.
The Genesis of Mason Middle School’s House System
During the 14-15 school year, Mason Middle School went to a traditional junior high school schedule and away from teaming – a move that saves $750,000 a year. MMS Principal Tonya McCall and her Building Leadership Team wanted to get feedback from students and staff about the shift away from teaming. They conducted a survey of students and staff and determined that both faculty and students wanted more opportunities to build authentic and meaningful relationships at school.
The House System provides a way to return to the idea of a school within a school in a fiscally responsible way.
“The house system focus is different [than teaming] because it promotes connectedness to the entire building and the staff while encouraging pride and friendly competition among the houses and families,” explained Jay Reutter, MMS teacher and one of the Building Leadership Team leaders who guided the House System adoption.
MMS staff are excited that the House System provides an opportunity to make school fun by helping kids connect to each other, and to adults at school.
“Sometimes the current educational environment, with its heavy emphasis on accountability, has taken a lot of the personal connections out of school. We believe significant learning cannot happen without significant relationships. We want to focus on the whole child, increasing their confidence, willing to take risks, resiliency, perseverance and empathy,” said Reutter.
House System Aims to Help Students Build Good Character, Throughout Year
Each month, there will be house meetings which may include philanthropy planning, guidance counselor meetings, and house competitions. There will also be monthly family meetings (there are about 22 students per family) which will include opportunities for career guest speakers, discussion of academic goals and aspirations, and monthly themed activities like Red Ribbon Week, Veteran’s Day, Random Acts of Kindness, District-Wide Food Drive, Holiday Help, and Pasta for Pennies.
This fall, students will participate in a school-wide Walk-a-Thon to support the continuation of the house system in future years.
Throughout the year, all houses will be competing for the coveted Comet Cup. Houses will be assigned points during house challenges, and for meeting academic goals, attendance goals and character goals.
“Not everyone can be the star athlete, or the star singer. But all of us can be stars by showing great character. That’s the most important thing we want you to learn at Mason Middle School because your character is who you are – and how you will be remembered,” MMS Principal Tonya McCall told students as she introduced the Comet Cup to each house on August 14.