Scott Primary house system builds ‘culture of kindness’
Monday, March 2, 2020 | 11:00 PM
In the Harry Potter universe, Hogwarts students are separated into “houses” or groups. Scott Primary School implemented its own house system at the start of the school year.
First-grade teacher Nicole Geary gained inspiration from Atlanta-based The Ron Clark Academy’s house system and wanted Scott Primary to develop its own program as part of its positive behavior interventions and supports, or PBIS, protocols. School counselor Maryann Swartz and kindergarten teacher Danielle Budziszewski joined her in spearheading the efforts.
During the first week of school, students and staff chose colored cubes from a “magic sorting book” which determined a person’s house — either house of perseverance, trustworthiness, kindness, friendship, respect and responsibility. The students will remain in their houses, each with its own color, crest and hand signal, throughout their primary school tenure.
The Scott Primary PTO provided house shirts for students and staff, as well as program materials.
“I think the coolest thing is that what I’ve noticed the most is every kid comes into school now knowing that they belong,” Budziszewski said. “Like, they don’t have to go and search for their group of friends. At the beginning of the school year, they were all given like a group of 60 kids that have their back and six teachers that are there to kind of like support them and keep an eye on them.”
“They have taken it to heart, that they’re just a house and they’re together and they’re members and they look for each other and they say kind things to each other. It’s wonderful to see that level of support,” Principal Cynthia Foht said.
Geary said that the house system makes new students feel more comfortable. To welcome each student, Swartz oversees them in picking a cube from the magic sorting book.
“Imagine your first day of school at this brand-new school. You’re terrified, right? ‘Cause it’s a new thing. And at lunch, you know, you get to pick your house. Everyone just cheers and they’re so excited. They’re so excited that you picked us. You’re in the blue house. We wanted you to be part of our family; you’re immediately part of a team,” Geary said.
The houses earn points by meeting schoolwide positive behavior expectations, like helping a friend tie his shoes, sharing items, and recalling difficult academic principles.
“It’s building a culture of kindness in the school,” Foht said.
Teachers give students paper point vouchers for their actions, which students place into color-coded bins for their houses. Third-grade house leaders tally the points weekly. The students announce the totals and ways that students earned points during biweekly house meetings filled with team-building games and kindness lessons. The committee leads quarterly recognition ceremonies and announces point totals. Students will find out the ultimate winner at year’s end.
Foht reports that office referrals are at a record low because “the kids are just so concentrated on doing the right thing.” Behavior issues on the school bus have decreased as well.
Foht said that this plan builds on the PBIS expected behaviors developed with the Allegheny Intermediate Unit of “we are safe; we are ready; we are respectful.” The house system utilizes positive reinforcement to promote expectations. “It’s unbelievable to see the change” in students, she said.
“I’ve seen like a 100% love for school,” Budziszewski said of the program. “… Like in the past, I haven’t seen all smiles coming down the hallway every single day, but there is every single day now, and I feel like it’s because of the house system. Kids come in excited to learn, excited to work with others and excited to work with different teachers, too.”