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Duchesne High School students Michael Rakers, left, and Hank Thro talked in their Communio at the school Jan. 22. The archdiocesan high school employs a house program that mixes students from all four years into academic and social groups designed to foster leadership, mentoring, service and community.
Duchesne High School students Michael Rakers, left, and Hank Thro talked in their Communio at the school Jan. 22. The archdiocesan high school employs a house program that mixes students from all four years into academic and social groups designed to foster leadership, mentoring, service and community.
Photo Credit: Sid Hastings

Duchesne High School is in the house with a new way of building community

New house system at school helps break down barriers of grade levels

What do Sts. Kateri Tekakwitha, Damien de Veuster of Moloka’i, Isaac Jogues and Katharine Drexel have in common? They’re all the names of North American saints, but they’ve also become the patrons of a new house system implemented at Duchesne High School in St. Charles this year.

Renaud
Duchesne has joined a growing number of schools in the country that have implemented house systems, which groups a mixture of freshmen through seniors into different houses. Each house — Kateri, De Veuster, Jogues and Drexel — has four Communios, which is Latin for community and the root of the word Eucharist. The Communios meet four days a week.

Julie Renaud, Duchesne’s house system director and one of the school’s academic deans, said they’ve already seen the benefits of shifting away from traditional homerooms, which typically group students of the same grade. The house system has fostered a new sense of community among students, especially among different grade levels. Students also develop activities and discussions among themselves, rather than leaning on teachers to do that, which has helped develop leadership skills, Renaud added.

Duchesne took about a year to research whether a house system would be the right fit for the school. Renaud attended the House System Institute, hosted at Chaminade College Preparatory School — one of the first schools in the nation to implement a house system more than 15 years ago. Duchesne faculty also visited other schools with house systems, including St. Pius X in Festus.

“What I like is the great sense of community that these schools are building,” Renaud said. “Seniors take care of freshmen, they take care of juniors. There’s not this, ‘Hey, we’re the freshman class.’ Instead there is, ‘We’re part of Duchesne.’ It breaks down those barriers that happen in grade levels.”

Communios typically meet in the morning, after students have had a few classes. On Mondays and Tuesdays, younger students meet with their individually assigned upper-class mentors and talk about how things are going academically or socially. They also work on setting goals throughout the year, take time to work on homework or help each other with tutoring. Students have racked up 1,500 hours of tutoring since the beginning of the school year, Renaud noted.

Later in the week, students participate in character education and event days, including healthy competitions among the houses, which earn points toward a House Cup to be awarded at the end of the year. They work on topics to explore together; ideas have included bringing in therapy dogs, and classes on car maintenance and money management. Students also have been working on “habitudes” — personal skills that include being mindful of others and increasing their sense of compassion.

Each house has two student captains, who oversee the four officers that lead each Communio in a house. Each officer represents a different area of the school’s mission: body, mind, spirit (school spirit) and soul (spiritual growth), and they help develop activities related to those themes. Captains also check in with their Communios several times a week. The structure has presented new leadership opportunities for students who in the past might not have been inclined to be involved in that way, Renaud said.

On a recent morning, students met in their Communios to talk about how their classes were going. In one Communio, a group was discussing highlights from their recent trip to the March for Life in Washington, D.C.

“The highlight has mostly been going into the Communios and seeing people from different grades working together, where before within any given homeroom it would have been kids from a single grade. You see bonds being formed across grades,” said senior Alex Kleitz, captain of Jogues. “Today we walked into a (room) and they were sitting in a circle discussing the three items they’d take to survive on a deserted island — which was not a prompted event.”

“This is the most I’ve seen us together as a community,” said senior Matt Klekar, who is officer of a Communio in De Veuster. “There are activities that we do in the Communio that are team building, and I’ve seen us work together really well on that. With this system we’ve been able to develop better relationships with each other.”

>> House System Institute

The House System Institute is a national symposium hosted by Chaminade College Preparatory School, which brings together school personnel from across the country to discuss the development of house systems.

To learn more about the institute, which will take place this year on June 18 and 19 at Chaminade, visit www.housesysteminstitute.org or call Todd Guidry at (314) 692-6751.

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