Building Community Through House System: A Look at St. Ann Catholic School’s House System – Part One

This article was contributed by Jill Ingebritson, 4th Grade teacher at St. Ann Catholic School/IB World School in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Older students in the St. Patrick Cathedral are helping the younger students create Valentine Cards for residents at a local nursing home.


As many educators recognize through studying Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, in order for students to reach their fullest potential, certain needs need to be met. One of these needs is the sense of belonging. A house system fosters a sense of community horizontally and vertically across grade levels in a school setting.

Brief History

The house system originated in England as a way to organize students into boarding school buildings. House systems first were used in the United States in the 1930s at Harvard and Yale as a way of sorting students into dormitory groups. Today, the house system refers to organizing students into groups, not buildings. Many are familiar with the house system through the Harry Potter books, which is perhaps why more schools in the United States are using it today.

Students and families in St. Peter Cathedral are being welcomed by their Cathedral members at the beginning-of-the-year sorting ceremony.

How Our House System is Organized

We call our house groups cathedrals, which highlights our Catholic faith. The school families of about 250 students and teachers are divided into four cathedral groups: La Sagrada Familia, Notre Dame, St. Patrick, and St. Peter. The students are able to purchase the cathedral color shirts through our uniform company.

At prayer services, meetings and other events, the students wear their cathedral colors with pride.  Each cathedral’s parents are responsible for a school family-wide event: Welcome Pasta Dinner, Thanksgiving feast, Santa Shop, and Breakfast with Santa. Each year, the school sponsors about 12 mission families through our local St. Vincent de Paul Society. The mission families are divided among the cathedrals for food and gift drives for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.  At the beginning of the school year, there is a sorting ceremony in the church. Each new student and family is welcomed into their assigned cathedral. The older students speak about the cathedrals and welcome the new members with cathedral stickers. The youngest students are paired with older students for Masses and special events. These buddy relationships last throughout their years at the school.

Students in the Notre Dame Cathedral are enjoying fellowship and coloring at the end of their meeting.

At the inception of our cathedral system, the first group of eighth-graders met with their own cathedral students to create a song or chant that highlights something of significance about the cathedrals. These are still shared today at each cathedral meeting. Throughout the year, several cathedral meetings are held during the school day and are led by the eighth-graders. Each cathedral meeting has an objective that is met through prayer, song, lesson, activity, games, and crafts. Also, during our field day, sport competitions are held between the four Cathedrals.

Your Turn

Our house system fosters a sense of community between the families and the students of different ages.  There is no set rule for the system to be successful because it has to fit your school’s personality.   Stay tuned… as I’ll share some moving results of St. Ann Catholic  School’s cathedral system.