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 four offices of House Leadership: Head of House, Tenant, Parliamentarian, and Scribe.
These four offices of House Leadership are appointed by the HLS administration. 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 House Tenant presides at the meetings and exists as the “right hand man” to the Head of House.
- The House Parliamentarian guides the house in achieving maximum efficiency in the implementation of its mission and guards the integrity of house meetings through structured and organized guidance.
- The House Scribe is the guardian of clear communication between the House Leadership and the House Membership, other houses, and the HLS student body.
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 Latin School, House points are awarded based on the following four categories: academics, athletics, community service, and spirit. Academic competition is based on GPA. Athletic competitions include dodgeball, soccer, ultimate frisbee, kickball, and volleyball. Community service points are based on member participation in service projects. Spirit is defined as eagerly participating in school events and extra curricular activities with a kind and helpful attitude. The house system exists to provide a healthy level of competition and camaraderie among students.