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From Ravenclaw to Rome--Rockbridge Academy's House System

March 17, 2022
By Noelle McDowell '22

We all know about Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin. But Athens, Corinth, Florence, Rome, and Siena? Well, they’re just old cities. Right? When Rockbridge Academy introduced its very own house system this year, a buzz shot through the school. “Which house are you in?” “Go Rome!” “Wait . . . is our mascot supposed to be a ram or a goat?” House cheers and special hand signals began springing up in a matter of hours. To many, the new house system was a surprise, and many students, teachers, and parents alike still have questions. Read below to discover the who, what, why, and how of the new Rockbridge House System.

What is the House System? In September 2021, Rockbridge Academy introduced its new house system. Upper school students (7th-12th) and teachers were sorted into one of five houses: Athens, Corinth, Florence, Rome, Sienna. Siblings are assigned to the same house. In future years, students will receive their house assignment at the beginning of seventh grade.

Why did Rockbridge create a House System? The houses are intended to create smaller communities within the student body. They also serve as groupings for grammar school mentoring, school service assignments, intramural sports, and other school competitions. Upper school principal Mandy Ball shared her vision for the house system: “I want the house system to be about looking out for the interests of others, not choosing to just be with the people it's comfortable to be with, and finding fellowship with people throughout all the grades, even the grammar school. We want faculty to work regularly with students, who work with younger students. It's mentoring and relationships from the top down.”

So . . . Harry Potter? While the idea of “houses” does remind us of Harry Potter, there is no intentional connection to the four houses in the book series. Rockbridge’s five houses were not intended to have personalities or characterizations, but, of course, some houses have already started to claim unique identities.

How did the House Names get picked? The five houses—Athens, Corinth, Florence, Rome, and Siena—were named after stops on the Grand Tour, Rockbridge’s capstone field trip to Greece and Italy for rising seniors.

How about the mascots? The house mascots and colors were inspired by different contradas in Siena. Athens is the eagle (blue/yellow), Corinth is the dolphin (blue/white), Florence is the dragon (gray/pink), Rome is the wolf (black/white), and Siena is the ram (red/gold). As Rockbridge students learn in fourth grade, the city of Siena divided itself into districts during the Middle Ages to create military companies. Each contrada has its own flag, mascot, church, and tight-knit community. To this day, the contradas dress up in their respective colors and compete at the Palio, Italy’s most famous horse race.

How do intramural sports work? The five houses compete in different intramural sport tournaments throughout the year. Although intramurals were delayed in the fall because of COVID, athletic director Timothy Stewart shared that his plan for the intramural sports rotation is flag football (Sept-Oct), kickball (Nov-Dec), volleyball (Jan-Feb), dodgeball (Mar-Apr), and ultimate frisbee (Apr-May). At the end of each sport’s season, the two houses with the best record compete in a championship match to be the tournament’s winner.

What’s the point of intramural sports? Mr. Stewart hopes that there will be a high participation rate in intramural sports among the student body. These games are opportunities for people who don’t want to commit to playing in a sports team but would like to participate in a lower-stakes competition.

Will this create division among the students? Of course, intramural sports are intended to create an aspect of fun, healthy competition between the houses. Most of the games are self-called, meaning that there is no referee and students must work out any disputes among themselves. This is a great opportunity for students to show leadership and good sportsmanship. Mr. Stewart shared, “I want the students to care about winning, but it’s not more important than just enjoying the sport and making sure everyone is having a good time. We’re doing this to build the overall culture of the school. The students will have to sacrifice some of the allure of winning for those things.”

Are there prizes? Nope. Mr. Stewart explained, “Right now there’s no prize; it’s just glory. If you won kickball, well, then you won kickball.”

What might the House System look like in the future? Mrs. Ball hinted that she is hoping to incorporate other non-athletic competitions between the houses and encourage more mentoring between the upper and lower school students in the future. Once the impacts of COVID and adjusting to a new building have mostly passed, the possibilities are almost endless. In the end, Mrs. Ball hopes that the house system will become a hallmark of fun and fellowship within the school: “It can be a really cool part of our school culture.”

Posted in School Culture

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