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Symsonia Elementary School sorts students, teachers, staff into 'houses'
Symsonia Elementary: Houses have animal names and characteristics

"It's our 'house' reveal day at Symsonia Elementary School," said Principal Alison Gregory. "We're sorting our kids into five different houses that represent five different character traits. Our teachers spent a full day this summer collaborating on this project and talking it out.

Our main question was what are the five character traits we want our kids to exemplify when they leave here? So, we built a house surrounded by each one of those traits. We researched colors and animals that represented those traits. Each house has a deep meaning of what that group represents and what we want kids to take from that to inspire them."

Students stay in their particular houses the entire time they attend Symsonia Elementary School.

The idea of houses within a school started with Harry Potter books. Ron Clark is a former Disney Teacher of the Year award winner. He started a charter school in Atlanta, Ga., with houses. Teachers visit to observe all year long. Some people see the power of houses and copy the idea, often with their own personal take on it.

"Lowes Elementary School has colleges," Gregory explained. "We at Symsonia like the idea Ron Clark has about character traits, so we incorporated that into our houses. We went off campus for an entire day to West Kentucky Community and Technical College's Emerging Technology Center to get out of our building and spend six hours considering where we want to go with this and with the kids."

The faculty collaborated to determine which character traits they want Symsonia students to learn, develop, and eventually embody by the time they leave the elementary school.

"That's where we started," said Gregory. "It has meaning because our teachers created it and customized it to our school. It is a trend and you'll see schools all over doing it, often with their own unique touches. In education, we want school pride, but we also want a smaller entity for kids to have a sense of belonging, smaller like a family. We have sports and clubs, but not all kids are able to participate in those things."

Shown at left, Briga House "elephants" symbolize compassion, love and peace.

Symsonia's faculty and staff worked together to slowly reveal certain aspects of the houses, but saved the biggest excitement for the reveal day. Below: lots of crowd enthusiasm on reveal day:

"I put on my Facebook today that academics matter, rigor matters, teaching matters, but at the end of the day, culture and spirit matter," Gregory said. "Everything matters. I can't teach a kid if they don't feel like they belong and don't want to come to school. A lot of people look at things like this and say, 'That's fluff. It's extra and you don't have time to do it. In my opinion, you don't have time not to work on your culture because if I have kids wanting to come to school and feeling like they belong, then it helps in all aspects - emotionally, socially, and academically. That's why we take the time to do it right. It really becomes a buy-in for everyone involved. You have to go all in on something like this. It's what you put into it that determines what you'll get out of it."

Prior to the reveal day, the teachers already had been sorted into houses. Nobody involved got to choose for themselves; that was left to fate. Symsonia holds that in common with Harry Potter and his school's houses. On reveal day, each student opened an envelope and inside discovered his or her particular house for the rest of their time at the school. Competitions will be between houses. "At the end of the day, besides the character traits and being in a smaller group, it's kindergarten through sixth grade," said Gregory. "It's an opportunity for older kids to mentor younger kids for a longer period of time. It helps develop appropriate pride. In addition, many adults, including not only faculty, but also staff are attached to individual kids, not just their homeroom teacher or grade level teacher."

The names of all five houses have specific meanings in other languages. The five houses include Briga, which represents love, compassion, and peace. Jasiri is courageous and fearless, represented by a wolverine and the color red. Kamahalo is Hawaiian for respect and pride. The color is gold. Ukadala's animal is a dragon. It represents creativity. Zinafuna is from the African language of Chichewa and means tenacity, focusing on perseverance and finishing the job you start. Young students in House Zinafuna are shown at left.

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