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East County schools make room for house system

Tara, Braden River elementary schools are testing the Ron Clark Academy House System.

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Thomas Gallen, a fourth grader at Braden River Elementary School, anxiously put his hand in a box to feel around for a rock.

He pulled out a blue rock and then ran to a group of his fellow students who already belonged to the Reveur house. They welcomed him with open arms.

The Reveur house is part of a program based off the Ron Clark Academy House System that is spreading through schools across the nation.

The Ron Clark Academy is a private middle school in Atlanta that opened in 2007. The academy started a house system, based off the Hogwarts houses from the “Harry Potter” series, as a way to create a positive culture and climate among students and staff. The system places students on a team (house) and creates a competitive atmosphere among those teams. Meanwhile, the system aims to build character, develop relationships and encourage school spirit.

More than 50,000 educators from across the country, including staff members at Braden River and Tara elementary schools, have visited the academy to observe the house program.

Kyla Smith-Bey, a fifth grader at Tara Elementary School, attempts to pick up as many candy canes as she can so she can win points for her house, Reveur.
Kyla Smith-Bey, a fifth grader at Tara Elementary School, attempts to pick up as many candy canes as she can so she can win points for her house, Reveur.

Although the program is being used the first time this year at Tara, Braden River used the system for its fifth grade students last school year. This year, Braden River has expanded the system to fourth and fifth graders.

Braden River Elementary uses three houses and has named them Reveur, Altruismo and Isibindi. Students drew color rocks at random to be assigned a house. Each house’s name has a theme.

Altruismo is known for being generous and giving to others. Members of Reveur are known for their leadership, vision and ambition. Isibindi represents courage and strength.

“We expanded it to fourth grade because we saw the effect that it was having on fifth grade in creating a school culture across the school versus just your classroom,” Braden River Principal Joshua Bennett said.

Tara implemented a similar version of the house system with its fifth graders this year, but its program also includes the Amistad house. Amistad represents friendship.

Megan Harris, a fifth grade teacher at Tara Elementary, said the house program brings the fifth graders together while also adding some “healthy competition” as each house tries to earn the most points for their achievements. A “house cup” is presented to the team with the most points at the end of the school year.

“The house system gives all the students a place where they feel they have the support of their peers,” Harris said. “It’s been really motivating for them.”

Bennett said the program has made Braden River, which has about 574 students, feel smaller to the students. Braden River has approximately 180 students in the fourth and fifth grades.

Angelica Muench, a fifth grade teacher at Braden River, and Deborah Hall, a fifth grade teacher at Tara, both said the program makes students feel like they have a place where they belong.

Alice Barr, a fifth grader in the Reveur house at Braden River, said she felt “very welcomed” by her housemates and has enjoyed working with her house.

“Even though it’s three different houses, we’re all working toward the same goals, which are to do the right thing, help each other, be brave and not be afraid to dream” Muench said.

Both schools have had their teachers and staff sorted into houses. Unlike Braden River, which has its teachers and staff randomly sorted like the students, Tara Elementary’s teachers and staff choose which house they believed best describes them.

Points in the system are earned for various reasons such as completing homework; demonstrating different characteristics, such as empathy, optimism and resilience; academic achievement and problem solving.

“[The house program] has taught the students how to work within a community,” said Cortney Preston, a fifth grade teacher at Braden River. “It’s taught them how to encompass teamwork and sportsmanship. They don’t want to let themselves down nor do they want to let any of their house members down.”


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