How “Houses” Help Strengthen Students’ Connections

Mason Prep launches its castle system.

Though Mason Prep is a small school, we continually look for ways to strengthen the relationships within our school community. Last spring, we began exploring the idea of having houses within our school to foster new connections. Through researching other schools’ experiences with house systems, we learned that houses provide students a community within a community – another place, besides a grade or circle of friends, where students can feel a sense of belonging. We place great importance on making sure our students know that they are each an important part of our community, so we are excited to bring this program to Mason Prep.

Castles
To get started, we formed a committee of faculty and staff members to lead the charge. The committee decided that, since we are the Mason Prep Knights, our houses would be known as castles. We also decided to have four castles, giving each castle approximately 80 students - small enough for students to know everyone in their castle.

Our castles (Halsey, Hawk, Montagu, and Starr) are named after our school’s founder, Mrs. Nancy D. Hawk; our school’s first Headmistress, Miss Harriett Starr Mason; and our location on Halsey and Montagu streets in historic downtown Charleston.

We decided early on that, along with names and colors, each castle would be associated with a character trait. As Mason Prep’s mission is the education of the whole child with a focus on character education, emphasizing positive character traits reinforces lessons we are already teaching. The committee began discussing which traits to highlight, but quickly decided that it was important to include the students in this process. We agreed to leave that decision up to the individual castles, which will meet soon to choose which character trait each exemplifies.

Sorting
Since most of our students are familiar with the Harry Potter books and the house system at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the concept of a house system was simple for students to grasp. Once we made the announcement that houses were coming, the excitement started to build.

Students were randomly sorted prior to a school-wide Morning Meeting when we returned to school from the holiday break. During that Morning Meeting, students sat in the gym by grade and teachers passed out envelopes addressed with each child’s name. Grade by grade, students opened their envelopes to reveal an invitation to one of the castles – blue invitations for Halsey, white for Hawk, gray for Montagu, and gold for Starr. Excitement grew as students looked around to see who was in their castles. Going forward, kindergarteners and new students will be sorted individually at a special assembly at the beginning of each school year.

Faculty and staff members also were sorted, making sure that teachers from the same grade level ended up in different castles. Within each castle, students can visit with teachers they have had in the past and get to know teachers they will have in the future.

Castle Activities
Getting together as castles often is important for building cohesive groups. Castles will hold regular meetings and will get together for picnic lunches, assemblies, and activities.

Part of the castle experience is friendly, constructive competition that serves to strengthen the bonds between castle members. Students will have opportunities throughout the year to earn points toward their castle’s total. For example, students earned points for their castles through school spirit-related activities during our Knights KNOW Week in January. Individuals can earn points from their teachers by showing improvement in a certain area, putting forth their best effort, showing kindness, etc. Students will also compete as castle teams during field day, by participating in community service, through supporting school events, etc.

Points will be tallied along the way and the running totals will be displayed to keep students motivated. At the end of the school year, the castle with the most points will win a trophy and bragging rights for the next year.

Future of the Castle Program
One of the most exciting things about our castle system is the sheer number of possibilities. We have no doubt that our students will have wonderful ideas about how to grow our castle system, and incorporating their input will make the system more meaningful for them. Crest designs, castle cheers, secret handshakes, who knows? We can’t wait to see!

Mason Preparatory School
56 Halsey Blvd Charleston, SC 29401
(843) 723-0664 (843) 723-1104