This September, amidst cheers and hoots and hollers, ECS welcomed the largest entering Secondary class seen to date. As the dust settled from Field Day and the bright stage lights dimmed after the House assignments were decreed, it seemed an apt time to address why we even have Houses at ECS.
It’s not because we want to be like Harry Potter. Really. Not even a little bit. We do want to enhance the Secondary experience and are admittedly borrowing the concept from a system that originated in England’s public schools, particularly boarding schools, where students literally slept and ate in a particular house. Since then, Houses have developed into a grouping of students that provide a sense of smaller community within the broader context of larger and sometimes impersonal schools.
Now clearly, ECS is not a public boarding school, but we do hope our Houses operate as microcosms within the larger whole of the school – a way for students to get some on-the-ground, unique training for how their individual gifts, weaknesses, strengths, and actions affect the larger household of their families and their houses of worship.
On a practical level, Houses help to tear down the false boundaries built-up between middle-schoolers and high-schoolers, welcoming the incoming seventh graders with great excitement into an immediate, smaller community of Secondary students. It also practically allows for more fun throughout the year – who doesn’t like a good competition? Finally, it just makes organization easier when we can group the entire Secondary into four distinct units in twenty seconds flat.
On a deeper level, though ECS is concerned with students feeling both inclusion and enjoyment, the Houses are meant to mature students…and maturation is often not fun. Certainly our students know what it’s like to be a member of a family and a church body – but this is a new opportunity as they begin to unfurl their proverbial wings. It’s a chance to exercise leadership potential amongst peers, flap into new aeries of creative endeavour, and sharpen their talons in both easy and challenging relationships. The House system uniquely qualifies for this because it fosters individual growth and maturation within a context of close community, mirroring a core Christian truth that our individual actions must affect the greater whole. When one cries, we all weep; when the little toe runs itself against the bed-frame yet again, the teeth clench; when one member leaves trash strewn through the Sanctuary, the whole House takes a five-point hit.
The House system hopefully shows the students that their individual efforts, talents, and abilities are a gift from the Creator for the benefit of the whole. Likewise, their weaknesses, sin, and apathies have consequences. In a world that worships autonomy, the House system is a weapon in our arsenal to showcase the value of an individual and the supreme value of that individual dying to bring life to others. Certainly this can be seen in larger contexts – even the school as a whole – but the House system provides concrete, quick, quantifiable feedback.
Thus we hope the Houses are a special means to balance individual growth with sweet fellowship as students learn to love others as themselves. This is the primary reason we keep families together in Houses: because we are commanded to love, and we believe the Houses help us to love our neighbors…and the hardest neighbors to love are the ones we share four walls with. Also, for those without siblings (or as the eldest sibling), the FTT (Full-Time Team) takes many things prayerfully into consideration when choosing a House for a student, including others in the House, the House leader, and the strengths and weaknesses that come bundled in the student, all with the view to how that student’s placement will both strengthen the House and the individual.
There are also some things the Houses are not. They are not meant to be representative clubs or personalities or identity markers. When the Houses were first announced a little over three years ago, the Secondary was still quite small, and a few families comprised each House. By God’s sovereign decree (and I am sure to His amusement), those Houses developed distinct personalities overnight – but this was not by any design on our part. Since then, none of the House leaders have sought to encourage nor entrench such flavors. Instead, we desire for the Houses to reflect the triune God, who delights in both unity and diversity everywhere His thumb-print touches (See: animals of Madagascar). The Houses should be diverse – we want every House competition to truly be up for grabs, and we want very different members learning to work as joyful teams to His glory.
The Houses are also not a chance to avoid doing work or making certain people into leader-trophies – as though if a House wins, it doesn’t have to take a clean-up day in the lunchroom. We treat winning as a chance to lose – in this, we hope our Houses follow the model of their Savior, who was first in line unto dirty feet, lepers, and tortuous death. Our prayer is that the Houses will be a mechanism that brings abundant life to the school, not a vehicle for conflict, proud competition, or pug-nosed leadership.
And within all of this, the House system at ECS is still emerging from the toddler phase. We are adding new events and new leaders. We are graduating students out and adding them in. We are solidifying our own telos of the “whys” and clarifying our views. But our prayer all along has been that the Houses will provide a close ring of compatriots to laugh with and fight alongside – that it will enhance the Secondary experience in small, seen ways, and unseen marks that indelibly etch the soul with wisdom, grace, and joy.
—Mrs. Bowers (filling in for the UH)