FRONTENAC — Students, teachers, janitors and cafeteria staff, everyone in Frank Layden Elementary is just as important as another.
This is one of the key points of the Frank Layden Elementary School House System.
Fourth Grade Teacher Tim Vesco and First Grade Teacher Dwayne Taylor visited the Ron Clark Academy, a middle school in Atlanta. The academy has its own House system which the Frontenac teachers witnessed.
“Seeing how the kids all bonded and created relationships outside their grade level and with teachers they may not work with every day, we knew this would be a good thing for students here in Frontenac,” Vesco said. “We want to give them a sense of belonging and to build relationships throughout their whole career here at Frank Layden.”
The FLE House system is not a new concept and has been used in schools in the United Kingdom and across the United States.
Taylor said the school had tried a buddy system in the past, but it “fizzled out.” He said the House system should help the children bond with another better.
On Friday, students at the elementary popped balloons with either red, green, blue or yellow confetti inside. The confetti color determined which “House” the children belonged to. Teachers, staff, the counselor and the principal are all included in the housing system. The principal and counselor belong to all Houses, of course, Vesco said.
The student belong to their designated Houses until they move on to junior high. New students will spin a wheel and will be put into a House at random, the same with new teachers and staff.
Each House has certain “qualities” it represents and they have been named in the Italian language in honor of the “rich Italian heritage Frontenac,” Taylor said. Red represents courage or coraggio, green, loyalty or lealta, yellow, friendship or amicizia, and blue, truth or verita.
The House matching mixes all of the grade levels in the elementary school, which gives the older students an opportunity to be leaders, Vesco said.
“Sometimes it’s more powerful if a student sees another student being a leader, rather than a teacher telling them what to do,” Vesco said. “We’re hoping some natural leadership occurs this way.”
Principal Courtney McCartney agreed and said it also works in reverse as well, “the younger students can be a model for the younger kids,” she said.
The program is beneficial to the students as they enter junior high and then high school, McCartney said. Upper and lower grade levels often blend in extracurricular classes and in clubs. McCartney said the “Houses” give students an opportunity to meet one another before reaching junior high and high school.
Vesco said teachers at the elementary school are able to get to know the younger students before they have them in their class.
“By the time they come up to my level I will already know them and I will know how they work and what they need to be successful,” he said.
Every two weeks the students have “House meetings” where everyone will celebrate their successes. The Houses will work on team building activities, discuss leadership roles and incorporate service projects within the Houses.
The program includes the Frank Layden Elementary 40 Essentials which are based off the Ron Clark Academy Essential 55. The FLE 40 lays out expectations, such as respecting adults, saying “yes mam” and “no sir” and holding the door for others.
On Monday before an assembly, Taylor said the students were taught a few of the FLE 40 essentials which are give speakers your undivided attention and everyone participates.
The Houses will earn points through “doing the right thing” and following the FLE 40 essentials, on which all adults in the building can report.
“Every adult can award House points,” Vesco said. “It lets them know we are all in this together, we are all Raiders and we all want to do well.
“We want to show them that everyone who works in this school is a teacher, everybody is a leader, it doesn’t matter who you are,” he said.
“We want to show them every role in the school is just as valuable as another.”
Vesco said the House system is a “learn as we go” project and they are taking advice from all of the teachers of what is working and what is not, from which they will tailor to fit their needs.
McCartney applauded Vesco and Taylor for working on the House system all summer.
“It shows what a great staff we have,” she said. “I couldn’t be prouder of them, to search for something different and make it work in here in Frontenac.”
Vesco, McCartney and Taylor said it's important to note that although the students are matched into Houses, that they are all still the House of Raiders overall.
— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.