WAYNESBORO – Posters and papers with pops of purple, green, yellow and blue, some featuring bulldogs with names like Ambitious Alexandria and Benevolent Brutus, line the halls of Westwood Hills Elementary School.

The students are excited about the school’s new house system, and their enthusiasm is evident in their art, said Westwood Hills vice-principal Jennifer Sturm. They often choose colors or themes that reflect their home’s values, such as kindness and motivation.

Under the new elementary school house system, students and staff are divided into one of four houses and earn points for their house by showing positive character traits. Administration and staff say the system not only reinforced positive behaviors, but also gave students a sense of belonging.

“We rarely see a group of children or a line of children where someone doesn’t talk about their home or ask someone, ‘Which house are you in?’ They are all very excited, “Sturm said.” It pushes the kids to step out of their usual group of friends and engage with other kids. “

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Teachers Elizabeth Wheeler and Ms. Kelly Thrower lead an activity at a Blue House meeting.

The house systems originated in English boarding schools, and many operate something like the fictional houses in the “Harry Potter” series. They have become more popular in American schools in recent years as a strategy to improve community and student behavior.

Over the summer, Sturm said administrators had studied how home systems work and discussed with several other schools that had already implemented them. They decided that the students would be randomly distributed among the four houses – Amiable Arthur, Ambitious Alexandria, Valiant Victoria and Benevolent Brutus – but the staff would choose their houses to guarantee their membership.

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Westwood’s program is based on the Virginia Tiered Systems of Support, which uses screening and interventions to provide support for the academic, socio-emotional, and behavioral needs of students. Schools are required to have a building-wide system that reaches all students, Sturm explained.

Westwood Hills designed a set of student behavior expectations from multi-level support systems, including ways to demonstrate kindness, motivation and responsibility in the classroom, cafeteria and hallway. When staff see students demonstrating these behaviors, they hand out tickets that go toward house point totals.

“It’s a really cool way to reward positive behavior, instead of focusing on negative behavior,” school counselor Summer Baptist said. “Children who have trouble controlling themselves and following instructions, you can always catch them doing something positive, and then they know they are doing the right thing.”

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Members of the Purple House got extra recess and popsicles for winning the school's first points competition.

The Purple House, also known as Amiable Arthur, won an extra break and popsicles for scoring the most points in the school’s first nine weeks of competition, Sturm said. Some teachers have also run mini-contests and offer small rewards for points earned in their classes.

The new system has also helped students and staff connect across the school, as students of all grade levels spend time with their roommates at home meetings throughout the year. Sturm said it’s rare to see a group of students who don’t wear their house colors or talk about their homes.

“There is so much that kids go through these days that I haven’t experienced… and a lot of the things that they do at home are very isolating. It’s something positive that brings them together and brings them together. brings them to the present, rather than connecting through video game chats and their tablets, “Baptist said.” It’s just another way to encourage them to be a community. “

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