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Sophomore Conner Fulton sat with other members of the Maucerc House in the chapel at Chaminade College Preparatory High School in Creve Coeur.
Sophomore Conner Fulton sat with other members of the Maucerc House in the chapel at Chaminade College Preparatory High School in Creve Coeur.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

Chaminade students thrive with house system

Graduates of national leader for house system describe its benefits

As a freshman at Chaminade College Preparatory School, Teddy Phelan quickly fit in because of the school’s house system and its emphasis on relationships across grade levels.

“It really brings you into the Chaminade community right away,” said Phelan, who now is a freshman at the University of Dayton in Ohio. “It gives you a core group of guys who can help you with anything you’re going through. As a new kid, you really don’t know what to do.”

Leaders in his house who were seniors provided him with advice. For example, he asked about a difficult teacher. The advice Phelan received was that “if you listen to him and do the work, you’ll get more out of that teacher than any other teacher at Chaminade.”

Phelan
Phelan found the advice to be true, and he was glad he had the senior’s help.

House events are scheduled throughout the school year, “so it really helped me get involved,” Phelan said.

He was one of two O’Donnell House captains his senior year, and he enjoyed helping the younger students. “It was cool seeing how everyone in your house comes together and how much fun they have when they’re as one competing against the other houses,” Phelan said.

Students from his class in his mentor group “are still some of my best friends today,” Phelan said, and he also keeps in contact with the senior leaders from his freshman year.

Danny Sheehan, a Chaminade student who came there as a middle school student, said the system helped him interact with upperclasmen “who show you around, help you out with classes and homework. You get that support.”

Sheehan, now a freshman at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., also enjoyed taking a leadership role in his house, “giving back to the program and community that gave me the support when I was an underclassman.”

Sheehan was the 2019 recipient of Chaminade’s Esto Vir Award given for outstanding qualities of integrity, scholarship, leadership, loyalty and generosity. The educators who served as mentors meant a lot to him as well, he said, giving him an adult to turn to when he needed help.

The purpose of the House System at Chaminade is to further enhance the mission of the school by developing Marianist leaders among the students, by providing a vehicle for pastoral care for all students and by strengthening the school community. Chaminade is viewed as a national leader in the development of a house system. Chaminade organized the House System Institute to share its expertise, and schools across the country considering a similar model routinely call upon Chaminade administrators for advice.

Sheehan
“It really has been transformative for our school,” said Todd Guidry, middle school principal at Chaminade. He touts the leadership component and the relationships across grade levels that it builds. The system also forces more adults at the school to become involved in the lives of the students. “Instead of a student just having his teachers and his counselor, now he also has the people who care for him in his house — keeping an eye on him and helping him out,” he said.

The school is careful to maintain identity by grade level, but that happens naturally. “Houses give them another sense of community for the school and loyalty within the school that might be different than the identity of their class,” Guidry said. “They can be comfortable and feel like they belong in different ways.”

Chaminade has five houses, and each house consists of students in grades six through 12, with approximately 170 students in each house — 105 high school students and 65 middle school students. Each house has eight mentor groups. Mentor groups are broken down into high school groups and middle school groups.

Elected student leaders are called house captains, with two senior house captains in each house and one middle school captain in each house.

Mentor groups meet for 15 minutes each morning. It is a time for building camaraderie across divisions; it is also for school announcements, tutoring discussion and activities. Mentors monitor and support academic, social, spiritual and behavioral growth of the students in the group.


>> National leader

This summer, Chaminade College Preparatory School in Creve Coeur hosted educators from across the country for the “House System Insitute: A National Symposium on Implmenting, Designing and Improving House Systems.”

Todd Guidry, Chaminade’s middle school principal, said there was a need for a national gathering place to discuss house systems, since a growing number of schools are implementing them to promote students’ intellectual, moral, social and emotional growth. Chaminade is considered the second school in the country to implement a house system, after Trinity High School in Louisville, Ky.

Schools often call Chaminade asking for advice, Guidry said. Chaminade planned the first institute in 2017 with 90 participants from 24 schools in 12 states. Last year, a student leadership symposium for schools with house programs was held in Cincinnati that included student participants. This year’s symposium had about the same number attending as in 2017.

“It’s all about talking about house systems and how to make them better,” Guidry said. “The folks who come are passionate about the program and know it can have a great impact on the schools.”

The keynote speaker, Marvin Berkowitz, professor of character education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, a leading expert on character education, spoke on the value of small communities in schools and what they can do for moral development and academic achievement.


Archdiocesan schools

A private Catholic school, Chaminade College Preparatory, began a house system in 2003, a pioneer in the area. Four archdiocesan high schools more recently began using the house system.

ST. PIUS X

St. Pius X High School in Festus implemented a house system beginning in the 2016-17 school year.

“What I like about it is the same thing the kids like about it, providing a sense of community across grade levels said Karen DeCosty, principal of St. Pius. “Students who participated in sports or other activity interacted with older and younger students previously, she said, but the house system provides a better opportunity for students to meet and interact.

“I just really like that ‘school community’ feel. Even if someone doesn’t choose to be in a club, sport or activity, they’re all a part of something because they’re in a house, something they didn’t have to try out for or sign up for,” DeCosty said.

It allows for more leadership opportunities as well. She and house leaders from St. Pius attended a three-day leadership training this summer and were impressed with the message about building student-leaders who take ownership of their houses.

At the school’s celebration of the feast of St. Pius X on Aug. 21, council members were blessed, an induction ceremony was held and more, “very much house-centered,” DeCosty said.

At St. Pius, the house system is designed to foster student engagement and school spirit through the assignment of every student, teacher, and staff member into one of four groups known as houses. Houses create small communities where students can interact with all grade levels while encouraging accountability, communication, tradition, academic excellence and friendly competition. Houses are named after influential leaders and contributors to the mission and goals of St. Pius X.

St. Pius seeks to impart Christian ethical principles of living to students, preparing them to be productive and contributing members of a global society.

CARDINAL RITTER

At Cardinal Ritter College Preparatory High School in St. Louis, the house system “gives our students the opportunity to develop relationships across grade levels,” said Shante Lyons, principal of the school. “It allows us to do a wide range of things to build camaraderie and a collective vision” of the school’s mission, he said.

Besides helping students to have fun and engage with each other, the program assists them academically, Lyons said. Examples include organizing schoolwork, developing study schedules and helping each other be accountable and celebrate successes.

The program creates more accountability, ownership and leadership opportunities among students and faculty. The focus is on the positive, wholesome interaction of students, faculty and staff.

Examples of events associated with the houses and families include a flag football tournament, frozen turkey bowling, basketball tournament, mission fundraiser, other fundraisers, and House Olympics.

ST. DOMINIC

The house system at St. Dominic High School in O’Fallon is being implemented this school year for the first time. Students are divided into families with approximately 20 students each. They’ll join together in community-building and service activities and “hopefully prosper some leadership from every grade level in each of the families, said Stacy Stewart, principal.

The families will combine into a house of about 100-120 students to work toward the same goal and compete among houses for school spirit. “We are Crusaders through and through, nine through 12th grade, getting to know each other,” Stewart said.

A student steering committee will be involved in selecting each of the house characteristics, she added.

DUCHESNE

The house system at Duchesne, begun last school year, fosters leadership skills, expands the mentorship program to all students, and increases service participation while building a stronger sense of community.

Students are given greater control of their non-academic time to explore issues relevant to them, work in a larger group with the leaders of the school, participate in ongoing service opportunities, and compete in friendly competitions.

The house system, school officials say, makes the transition to high school easier by providing a sense of belonging in a small community across all levels, interests and activities.

Each of Duchesne’s houses is comprised of four mixed grade level groups, with each house having faculty and staff advisers.

There are two student captains in each house, one male and one female. The officers are four additional students, three each representing an area of the Duchesne mission and one responsible for the spirituality of the house: mind, body, spirit and soul.

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