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Can competition and camaraderie coexist?
They do in Highlands Latin School’s house system.
At first it may seem that competition and camaraderie are at odds, and sometimes they probably are. But in Highlands Latin School’s house system, they seem to go together quite well. A traditional fixture of many British schools, the “house” system has enabled Highlands to accomplish a number of goals that can be elusive for many schools.
The Origins of the “House” System
The house system is widely used in British schools and schools that model themselves after the British system in countries with past British colonial ties, such as Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, India, and Singapore. The system began in boarding schools, where students actually ate, drank, and slept in individual houses during school terms. The house system still operates this way in prestigious British boarding schools, such as Harrow, Eton, and Winchester College.
There are numerous benefits schools have traditionally seen in using the house system. According to its website, Harrow International School Bangkok, Thailand, considers its house system the “heart of the Secondary School.” “It is designed to encourage and increase competition between students and to create a supportive environment.”
The House System at Highlands Latin School
At Highlands Latin School the advantages of the house system have been manifold. The houses provide not only an increased feeling of identity and belonging, they also provide students with a sense of tradition and abundant leadership opportunities.
Highlands Latin has seen a marked change in the attitude of students as a result of the establishment of the houses. Because of the competition and the identification of each student with a house, there is constant encouragement for students to do their best. The positive attitudes of students toward one another and toward the school have been quite amazing since the program started.
The sense of tradition is palpable too. Although it is young, the Highlands house system already has about it the feeling of history. We tell our student leaders that years from now, their successors will look to them as examples and early founders of their houses. Every house is handed down a gavel engraved with the name of the house and the year it was established. We tell them not to worry if their gavels get a few nicks, because there will be stories associated with each mark that will be handed down over the years. Each year, the new house leaders are excited about their positions and carrying the banner forward for their houses. Children don’t get many opportunities to be a part of traditions like that anymore.
Another benefit of the house system to the Highlands community is the leadership opportunities available to students. Each house has six officers: Head of House, Assistant Head of House, House Parliamentarian, House Scribe, House Historian, and House Steward, each with their own responsibilities. Between the four houses, then, there are 24 positions in which students can serve their fellow students.
Each house office is held accountable to unique responsibilities by the school staff:
- The Head of House is chosen by the faculty based on the level of maturity and responsibility each has displayed. He or she presides at house meetings and reports directly to the faculty.
- The Assistant Head of House presides at the meetings in the absence of the Head of House and reports directly to him or her.
- The House Parliamentarian is responsible for being familiar with basic parliamentary procedures for the purpose of house meetings.
- The House Scribe performs the function of a secretary, keeping minutes of all house meetings.
- The House Historian is responsible for keeping a record of all the important activities of the house (for purposes of consultation by future house leaders) and works closely with the House Scribe.
- The House Steward is responsible for the safekeeping of any House funds. He is also the keeper of any house “relics”: any items such as banners, crests, gavels, etc.
Competition in the House System
The feature of the houses most popular with students is the competitions. At Bingley Grammar School in West Yorkshire, England, houses compete on the basis of academics, attendance, and sports. Sports competition includes cross country, netball, rugby, and table tennis. At Highlands, students compete in academics, community service, and sports, including dodgeball, soccer, ultimate frisbee, kickball, and volleyball. They also compete in chess and Latin Scrabble.
Academic competition is based on GPA. Houses are given points on the basis of how house teams perform in academic quick recall competitions. Community service points might be given on the basis of which house turned out the most members to sing at a rest home. The house system introduces a healthy level of competition and camaraderie in everything Highlands Latin students do.