Buchanan Elementary Embraces ‘House’ System to Build Core Values, Culture Across All Grade Levels in the School

It can be tough for a new student to enter school and feel like they are part of the larger community.

Principal Ashley Witt and her team at Buchanan Elementary School are using a culture-building strategy that groups students from all grades into “houses” where they can learn from each other Buchanan School spotlightand interact with a variety of students and adults.

“We need students who feel welcome, no matter what grade level they are in,” Witt explained. “If they are in kindergarten and they are walking down the hallway, I want them to feel comfortable enough to say, ‘Hey, I need a little help.’”

Buchanan isn’t the only school in Rutherford County to use the “house” system. In fact several elementary schools have adopted some part of the philosophy, which was made popular by the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta.

Buchanan Elementary House System 1
Students in House Fox work contribute to an art project, which was a long piece of paper stretched down a hallway. Each student added their personal message to the mural.

Witt aims to use the system to develop Buchanan School spotlightmeaningful ways for students to build assertiveness and learn the importance of working with others.

“It builds that social-emotional piece, and we know they have to have good social-emotional skills to build their academics,” Witt said. “It boosts confidence and gives them opportunities to be successful beyond just reading and writing. Buchanan School spotlightSo for example, if they are doing an experiment in their classroom or if they are working in a small group, it gives them voice and maybe gives them self-confidence to work with that other partner a little more easily.”

Here’s how it works:

All students and adults in the building are assigned to one of four houses: Bear (Valor), Fox (Sabio), Eagle (Claravedencia) or Wolf (Unidad).

Buchanan Elementary House System 2
Buchanan Elementary School uses the BES Big 10 to emphasize core values among students and employees.

Each house is made up of students from a variety of grades levels, kindergarten through fifth, which helps all students learn to interact with a diverse group of peers. All school employees are assigned to a house too, Witt added.

“It gives our students another adult in the building beyond just a classroom teacher,” said Witt, who is a member of the House Bear. “So they belong to a house and all of our staff is in a house, whether it’s an educational assistant, Mr. Perkins our lead custodian, our ladies in the office, everyone has a home they belong to, and it gives our students more than just one person that they can connect to.”

Kindergarteners and other new students are selected at the beginning of the school year, and then maintain that community throughout their time at Buchanan.

Addison Foster is a fifth-grader at the school and has been part of House Fox since kindergarten.

Buchanan Elementary House System 3
Buchanan students compete in a centipede race during their House group day. The activities are designed to promote community among all grade levels.

“It’s really fun,” Foster said, always responding to questions by saying, “Yes sir.”

“It gives us a chance to learn more about how to help others,” she continued, adding her favorite part of the house system is “meeting the new people in the house, meeting new friends like fourth-graders and fifth-graders, all through kindergarten.”

When you meet Foster, one of the first things you’ll notice is how polite and well-spoken she is.

Those qualities are part of the core values emphasized with all students at Buchanan.

The school has 10 core values, which they refer to as the “BES Big 10.”

Buchanan Elementary House System 4
Ms. Beatrice Honey, a persona adopted by a teacher a Buchanan, leads students in a dance party during their House group day.

Those values include using ma’am and sir, respecting the opinions of others, not making excuses and learning from mistakes. Those are just a few of the 10 values.

Witt and her team incorporate the core values into each house’s activities.

Last week, for example, the school held its second set of house meetings this school year.

All students came to the gym, gathered into their house groups, and then competed in teamwork competitions.

The event was hosted by “Ms. Beatrice Honey,” a persona adopted by a teacher in the building.

Using an over-the-top British accent, Ms. Honey dresses loudly, with light-up shoes, outrageous makeup, and multi-colored hair and clothes.

After the initial round of competitions, two of the house groups broke out for other activities. One group went to the cafeteria for its house meeting, while the other group worked on a large paper mural as an art project.

In the house meeting, each group reviewed their house chants and songs, and the students received a lesson on one of the BES Big 10 values.

For the month of November, the school’s character word was “courage,” and using the house groups, the students have learned how to connect the word to the BES Big 10 values that says, “In all circumstances, be honest.”

Witt said: “We know that it takes courage to be honest, even when it’s not something you want to tell or something you need to tell.”

For the art project, the name of each house was drawn on a large piece of paper and stretched down a long hallway. The students played on the floor around the paper, and equipped with a variety of crayons, were invited to add their own drawings and messages to the paper, as a group.

Each house group rotated through the activities, unaware of how unusual it is is to see kindergartners and fifth-graders spending so much quality time together.

“The house system was in place before I came, but it didn’t have as much meaning as it does now,” said Witt, who is in her sixth year as principal.

She marvels at the way it helps all classes blend together, and how it has exposed “all kinds of leaders in our building.”

“Mr. Perkins, he’s our custodian, and he mentors a group too,” she explained. “Sometimes we have even smaller breakout groups, and he’s done that for us too. It’s really neat the connections our adults make with our students.”

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