Jim Collins (Good to Great) is often quoted about the bus, getting people on the bus, driving the bus, etc. But people often don’t talk about the hedgehog concept. Catholic schools do one thing really well—build community. In a wide variety of Church documents, the Church calls us to build faith communities and communion within our schools. What I often see is schools saying, “Yes, we do the community thing already. We got that down. So let’s focus on our test scores.”
Balderdash! I suggest we double down on community and become even more intentional. One such strategy is the House System catching on in our high schools. More common in England (and Hogwarts!), the House System was brought to Chaminade High School in 2002 by a group of students on a Marianist exchange program to Australia. The students wanted to bring this to their school. Interesting sidenote—when the House system began in English boarding schools, those schools were pre-Reformation Catholic. So there are actually Catholic roots to the system!
The House System has spread to a number of other high schools. Stop what you are doing right now and watch this video about the House System from Cincinnati’s Moeller HS. It is so good that if you watch it, you can skip the rest of this blog!
Notice the video talks about formation right away. The House System is not designed to primarily promote school spirit, rather it is about providing a sense of caring and belonging to all students. Students are randomly placed in a House where they stay all four years. They can compete against other houses, yes, and I imagine at all-boys schools that might motivate most of the young men (!) but the program also provides mentoring, fellowship, and identity. At Moeller, the students join a homeroom under their House so they are spending time immediately with students from other grades.
Names of the houses are chosen to reflect and to establish a common identity—saints from the founding religious order, former teachers or principals, religious sites important to the school’s charism—as well as colors, banners, and crests all provide students with another identity.
Who would resist this great idea? Alumni have trouble buying in due to concerns that there might be more loyalty to the House rather than the class. Seniors resist because seniors resist all changes. The most conservative group in any high school, the senior class, wants every 9th-11th grader to have the exact same (sometimes miserable) high school experience. Faculty will often resist because faculty can resist changes.
There is a network forming. Moeller is putting on a summer conference on June 24th. Called the House System Institute #2, this student leadership summit is bringing together schools which currently use the House System as well as schools interested in implementing the program. More information here or email Moeller’s Director of the House System, Karen Matuszek at firstname.lastname@example.org. More links:
- First, watch this video of the House System in action as the students from Archbishop Riordan HS (San Francisco) compete in a school-wide Rochambeau tournament. It’s 90 seconds and worth your time!
- Here’s a link to information and great background about Archbishop Riordan’s House System.
- Here’s the link to the Archbishop Moeller HS web page about the House System.
- Great article in the Marianist newsletter about the House System in Marianist high schools.
- Website and links about the House System at Chaminade College Prep HS (St. Louis) and Chaminade-Madonna HS (Florida) including names of each house.
- Link to information about O’Dea HS (Seattle)’s House system, including information on how the House names and crests were created.
- Link to information about Gross Catholic’s House System, including an explanation of the names.
- Link to my podcast conversation with Sr. Mary Jordan Hoover, OP, the founding principal of St. John Paul II HS in Phoenix (opening this fall) who designed the school to support the House system.
This newsletter is dropping a few days after I blogged about Nicole Stelle Garnett & Margaret F. Brinig’s seminar work on the importance of Catholic schools in urban America, Lost Classroom, Lost Community. Tomorrow my podcast conversation with Garnett will drop. We’ll talk about the proven value of Catholic schools (spoiler alert—community) and the path forward.
I blog about the House System as I hold it up as an exemplar of building community in our schools. The current problem of adolescence has been described as “spiritual homelessness” and the House system gives them a home. I’ve also collected some great articles.
- NCR had a great series on FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students): FOCUS promises to fight for this generation on college campuses, FOCUS campus ministry has big money, conservative connections, and FOCUS plans to graduate parishes with spiritual multiplication. FOCUS is growing in popularity and if your school communities haven’t intersected with them yet, they probably will. How? Perhaps their missionary mindset might impact your campus ministry efforts, perhaps you’ll have graduates enroll, or your potential teachers might have a background in this area, or your parish might be impacted by the expansion of its efforts.
- In the Teaching & Learning section, the first three links all focus on personalized or project-based learning. The first blog “Three Foundational Principles” from the ACE blog is a great place to start.
- There is a lot of commotion around dress codes these days. Female students are making Title IX claims against dress codes. I encourage you to read the New York Times article in the Miscellany section entitled “Is Your Body Appropriate to Wear in School?” to size up the issue. This issue is not going away and it’s important to pay attention to the cultural shifts.
- The next article in the same section, Shane Parrish’s blog entitled Go Fast and Break Things, is a great examination of sizing up decisions and proceeding appropriately.
- I will never pass up the opportunity to read something about the Boss. America’s article The Enduring Catholic Imagination of Bruce Springsteen is thought-provoking and interesting. Being Catholic is more than dogma.
Please pray for Bishop George Murry, SJ of the Diocese of Youngstown, the current chair of the USCCB Committee on Education, as he undergoes treatment for leukemia. Next week I’ll be back with some guest voices weighing in on the tragic decision to close the Jubilee Schools in Memphis.
Have a great week!