Building a New House

By Maya Heimes

It was a Friday, and all the students were wearing MPH apparel. History Teacher Matt Twomey-Smith walked the halls of MPH and saw school spirit everywhere. He saw that this spirit was powerful and wished to see it more throughout the year. Then, recalling conversations among the faculty about a house system, Mr. Twomey-Smith thought there should be a way to excite this spirit through the whole school throughout the year.

In past years at MPH, there have been many changes to the community and culture (such as the many new faculty members and new students), and new additions to the school (such as the gym, visual arts center, and the STEAM park). To provide a sense of unity amidst this change, faculty and staff wanted a house system to “create a framework to encourage a type of culture at MPH that we wanted and have enjoyed in the past,” Mr. Twomey-Smith said. Ms. Kendall Hoekstra, Head of Lower and Middle Schools, said, “I hope [the house system] is a source of pride and a source of community for everybody.”

Since September, a steering committee made up of faculty members has met regularly to make most of the decisions about the house system. More recently, a design and research committee made up of students interested in developing the house system has held a few meetings. At this point in the process, these committees have established four houses: House of the Phoenix, House of the Trojans, House of the Knights, and House of the Panthers.

Each of the house mascots come from a tradition of MPH: the Panthers are from the Pebble Hill School, the Knights are from the Manlius School, the Trojans are from MPH, and the Phoenix has been a long-standing symbol for MPH going back to the days of the Manlius School. Along with a mascot, each house will have core values attached to it, and the members of the house committees will share this information by the end of the year.

Although each house will have its own values, the houses will share four primary foundations— scholarship, character, service, and performance—that will be on a rotation system; so, each year every house will have a different one of these four foundations. Furthermore, students in grades 5 through 12 will be placed in a specific house, while students in grades 1 through 4 will spend a year in each house. This allows the Lower School students to experience the houses and their core values before they are assigned to their permanent house in fifth grade.

To help institute this house system, members of each house will vote for student and faculty representatives to be a part of the House Council. They will provide leadership and make decisions going forward; however, this may change with future developments. Intentionally, the house system does not have many specifics in place at this time. As Mr. Twomey-Smith states, “What we’ve tried to create is a framework and the bare bones of a system that hopefully, over the next couple of years, the students will help put flesh to and encourage.”

For the school as a whole, more events will be created due to the house system. One of the major changes will be Winter Carnival. Instead of a competition among grades, houses will compete against each other. Along with this, there will be other activities for the houses and the whole school to participate in. “One idea is to have a harvest festival during homecoming, but do it so everyone is contributing to it, so it’s a full school event, so we can have a much better-attended homecoming game, and we can also incorporate it with a harvest festival,” Mr. Twomey-Smith said. This is only one idea for cooperative activities that will be formed in future years. According to Mr. Twomey-Smith, “The goal is to create cohesion within the school, and that might sound strange or counterintuitive. To create cohesion,  you are creating divisions amongst these houses, but really it’s creating extra points of contact [for students].”

Most students reading this article feel a connection with their grade. They also have a connection with their school (Upper, Middle, or Lower School). “This house system is going to create another layer of identity to that,” Mr. Twomey-Smith said. Students will still have their grade and school connection; however, they will also have connections across grades and schools. Jack Murray ‘19 has been attending the design meetings for the house system. Murray thinks, “Having a house system allows students from different grade levels to interact in ways they normally wouldn’t. It builds connections between everybody at MPH, and hopefully, the way that we are going to implement it isn’t going to cause any sort of over-competitiveness or exclusion.”

Students will know their house by the first day of the 2019-2020 school year.