Cavalier Feature: In the House

An old Cherokee legend tells of grandfather teaching his grandson some life lessons. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.” (virtuesforlife.com)

If you’ve ever spent copious amounts of time around middle school students, you understand that the wolf metaphor is quite apt.  At times sweet, kind and fun-loving and at other times brooding, self-centered and obnoxious, middle school students live in the extremes. While we often hope that the good wolf surfaces and dominates the middle schooler’s mind, it’s too often the case that the bad wolf prowls around.  The inaugural CVCMS House Cup is our noble-minded attempt to build community, foster others-centeredness and, so to speak, feed the good wolf.  We want to encourage those fruits and virtues that we prize and value in our kids.

In brief, for our House System or House Cup, our students are divided into four different houses, each with a distinctive name and designated color, for the purpose of promoting school spirit and cultivating, as our mission statement says, responsible Christian adults.

In the long view of things, the origins of CVCMS’s House Cup go all the way back a couple hundred years to Great Britain, where boarding school students lived in separate dorms or “houses” and came to be identified as a members of that house or team.  This system took hold in other parts of the world, particularly in British colonies, and students came to be divided into different houses for the duration of their stay at the school, engaging in year-long athletic, academic and spirit competitions in an attempt to win the House Cup.  Such a system found its way to other parts of the globe as well as other literary worlds, famously gaining attention in many British novels and movies.

In the shorter view of things, the seeds go back to last February, with a trip I took to the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta. A former national teacher of the year, Ron Clark established this school with another national teacher of the year, Kim Bearden, as a demonstration or lab school of unparalleled academic excellence, welcoming over 14,000 teachers every year for training and inspiration.  Seeing the school spirit evident as well as the way their house system promoted unity and community moved me to bring the idea back to the CVCMS for consideration.

Though rightfully skeptical of the many hair-brained ideas that their principal throws out, the teachers were willing to give it a try, going along with the notion that failing spectacularly seems preferable to playing it safe.

We picked faculty house leaders who, in turn, began to give a particular shape, and color, that CVCMS’s House Cup would take. Each teacher selected a House name as well as a House Color to be used forevermore for all posterity. The names are based on the particular virtue or quality that the house leaders wanted to be at the heart of their identity.

Ms. Brooke Barton leads Team Altruismo, which is Spanish for “kindness.”  Her orange team is known as the “House of Kindness.”

Mr. Blake Hiemstra leads Team Meraki, which is a Greek word meaning “to put your whole self – all of your creativity and effort-  into something.” His turquoise team is known as the “House of Creativity.”

Mr. Jim Elsenbroek leads Team Radost, which is Slavic for “joy.”  His lime green team is known as the “House of Joy.”

Mrs. Ally Kornelis leads Team Sapientia, which is Latin for “wisdom.”  Her maroon team is known as the “House of Wisdom.”

About a week and a half into the school year, we sorted students into their houses in a grand ceremony in which students pulled a colored bandana out of a manilla envelope, thereby telling them their new home for the duration of their middle career.  Once the students were all sorted, the official House Cup era began, with students competing against each other in a year-long endeavor to gain points for their house.

Students earn points for their house in a variety of ways. Using the Class Dojo app on their phones or iPads, teachers can award students points for things such as using good social skills, for having house spirit as shown in wearing their house shirts or their house bandanas or being being helpful, in and out of the classroom.  Put simply, students earn house points by doing the things expected of good human beings.  For example, it’s not uncommon for a student’s offering to help another student or teacher to be met by a teacher’s “What house are you in?” so that the teacher can reward such an others-centered mindset with house points.  

Students gain points for their houses at various house competitions as well.  On about a monthly basis, we’ll have what is known as House Jams.  All 40+ students and teachers will meet at houses for about 20 minutes in order to learn a cheer or chant as taught by the quartet of student house leaders, then the entire school will descent on the gymnasium, to perform their cheers and give a deafening display of pure school spirit.  Once the cheers are completed, each teacher house leader awards the House Member of the Month Award to the house member who best exemplifies all that we’re striving to encourage in our students.

Perhaps it’s hard to glean hard and fast conclusions from a sociological experiment in the early stages of the research, but what we’ve discovered early on is that many students have devoted themselves not only to the good of their houses, but also to the ideal of thinking beyond themselves.  Plus, it’s simply made life fun.  To see the rainbow of house colors on a morning when all students wear their house shirts is to welcome Joy and Goodwill to the middle school party.

We strive as teachers and parents to raise others-minded, kind-hearted, devoted young men and women of Christ. What we’re learning at the middle school is that giving a structure to that pursuit of raising Christ followers helps us to realize that such labors are definitely not in vain. Do we still have incidents of teasing and bullying? Have we handed out some detentions for disrespect? Have we heard some examples of foul language? The answer is a humble ‘yes,’ and we continue to deal appropriately with unwanted behavior, but that’s not the wolf we have chosen to feed.


To learn more about CVC’s school programs and dedicated staff, or to apply, click here!

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