At Westwood Hills Elementary School in Waynesboro, 417 students and almost 60 teachers and staff members are joined by a system implemented at the start of this academic year.
They call it their house system.
Students drew pieces of colored paper and the color corresponds to the house they belong.
“The idea is — that we are all Westwood,” said Westwood Hills Elementary School Assistant Principal Jennifer Sturm. “We are all in this together.”
According to Sturm, each house also has a name and specific character traits.
The House of Valiant Victoria’s color is yellow, and they are brave protectors and adventurers who “feel deeply with their hearts.”
The House of Ambitious Alexandria is identified by the color green. They are dreamers, who are goal oriented and “always looking to the future.”
Members of the House of Amiable Arthur have purple as their color, and they are kind, creative problem solvers, who “are always thinking.”
Blue identifies members of the House of Benevolent Brutus. They are givers, who treat others fairly, “and always do their best.”
Sturm said that once a student joins a house that is his house while he is a student at Westwood Hills. Two 5th-grade leaders are in each house.
“What we’ve seen is such a fun level of excitement for their houses,” Sturm said of student reaction.
Each house holds meetings, Sturm said, which enables students to interact with students from other grade levels, as well as other teachers.
“It’s created a huge support network system,” Sturm said. And brought “a real sense of community” for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.
Sturm said the house system idea came from the school’s Virginia Tiered Systems of Support
Team as a way to meet Tier 1 requirements by supporting all students in the school and teaching them what is expected of them while also showing students how to include everybody.
The school has had T-shirts made for each house in its color, as well as bracelets.
“It’s pretty cool actually,” said Giovanna Edwards, a first grade teacher at Westwood Hills.
She said at first she was not sure about the house system, because she did not think the students should get rewarded for what they should already be doing.
But, after nine weeks, she sees the benefits of the house system. Sometimes who does the right thing is not recognized, but students who do not do the right thing get attention,” she said.
“It’s been really helpful, I think,” Edwards said.
Edwards is a member of the House of Benevolent Brutus, and she said “they’re learning to work together.”
Last Friday, members of the blue house held a house meeting which Edwards said was much like a high school pep rally. They created a cheer for their house.
And Edwards met students from other grades whom she now says hello to in the hallways every day.
“It was neat to see the kids from different grade levels working together,” she said of the house meeting.
She has seen the house system working in her own classroom. The system is helping a student in her class who struggles with making good behavior choices.
“It’s been adopted as his personal behavior [model],” Edwards, who has taught at Westwood Hills for 23 years, said.
In Westwood Hill’s house system, students earn tickets for “doing the right thing,” such as taking the trash out or showing kindness toward a classmate. Tickets give a student a reward, such as iPad time.
“It’s really on him to do the right thing,” Edwards said of her student who is changing his behavior with the house system.
Edwards said she likes that the system is rewarding all students, so no one is singled out.
“The fact that it’s working in nine weeks is pretty impressive,” Edwards said.
A few older siblings of students in her class have used reward tickets to come read to Edwards’ class, and she said all of the students enjoy that about the house system.
The house system “sort of fits in there seamlessly” Edwards said of making time during the school day for rewarding students.
“We’re finding ways to plug it in every day,” she said.
And, as a parent, Edwards is seeing the house system work in her daughter’s life as she starts Westwood Hills as a kindergartener and will have the house system for the next five years.
“It will be kind of interesting to see what her school experience will be like with that community experience.”
Karen Cash has taught fourth grade at Westwood Hills for 10 years.
“I think it’s great,” she said of the house system. “I’m really enjoying it.”
She is also a member of the blue house.
“My favorite part of it is the teamwork aspect of it — that I’m seeing come alive in my classroom,” said Cash.
Before the house system, she did her own points system, but she called them Bulldog Bucks in her classroom and individual students earned the bucks for prizes.
Now students earn points toward their house.
“What I’m seeing is the kids are encouraging each,” she said.
She said points are totaled at the end of each week, and for two weeks the purple house won in her classroom, then the blue house won for two weeks.
Cash said then the students in her class who were members of the purple and blue houses began encouraging the students in the yellow and green houses to earn points.
She said she likes seeing her students happy for each other, even when they do not earn points for themselves.
“It was really positive,” Cash said.
As a teacher, Cash is enjoying making connections with students in other grade levels who are in her house.
Each house has its own cheer and handshake, and she shares the blue house’s handshake with her fellow house members in the hallways.
“I think the coolest part is I’m part of a house that even kids who are not in my class are a part of,” Cash said.
While Cash has maintained connections with her former students who are now 5th graders, the students who are in her house she has even more of a connection with now.
She is most enjoying the team aspect of the house system and “the positive encouragement that has been going on.”