A fun idea has returned to Fort Frances High School to boost morale and build community, as well as help students develop a sense of belonging and “Muskie Pride.”
The “House Groups” program divides students into 20 teams, who then are given opportunities to earn points for their team through participation, involvement, leadership, and succeeding in various activities.
Each team's points are tracked through an app in the school's atrium and whichever group earns the most points by the end of the school year will receive the Muskie Pride House Group Cup, along with a special prize.
“The program is meant to promote more of a community within our school, so we're trying to get students from all different grades to get to know each other better and start to feel more connected,” said FFHS teacher and committee member Sarah Arpin.
“The hope is that it will make for a more positive learning environment overall,” she added.
“We're trying to make our community a positive place where everybody feels welcome and wants to learn.”
One of the key ways students earn points is through participation, such as by attending sporting events, school events, plays, musicals, and getting involved in school “Spirit Days.”
Students also can earn points by making the Honour Roll, attending the academic assistance program at lunch, and garnering “Muskie Moolah.”
The “Muskie Pride" program allows students to earn "Muskie Moolah,” which earns points for their House Group and can be spent on Muskie merchandise that includes hats, mitts, scarfs, mugs, pop sockets, and clothing.
Students earn the moolah through demonstrating their “Muskie Pride” through behaviours that demonstrate positivity, respect, inclusiveness, decency, and engagement.
The moolah is handed out by the teachers who are given a certain amount at the start of each week.
The house groups are based around similar programming offered at Robert Moore and J.W Walker, where students are broken up into teams and rewarded points for their positive behaviours.
“It seemed kind of challenging to do at FFHS because we have such a big school,” noted committee member Marla Knutsen.
“But we just thought if they can do it, we can do it—and it would be a really great way to boost the morale and get students together,” she reasoned.
The week before Christmas, when the program first launched, there was a sorting ceremony in the school's gym modelled around the way it's done at Hogwarts in “Harry Potter.”
Following the sorting ceremony, students met with their group leaders, who consist of FFHS teachers, and participated in “Minute to Win It”-style games to earn points for their team.
“For the students, I think it's great for them to see their teachers get involved in the events and share these experiences with them,” Knutsen said.
“The staff and students that normally don't really participate in a lot were having lots of fun with the activities, and there was a lot of positive feedback from both staff and students, which was really nice,” she added.
Other house group activities where teams earned points include an “Amazing Race”-themed event and dodge ball tournament.
“We're hoping with our events to hit everyone and everybody's interests, and things that they are comfortable participating in,” Knutsen remarked.
So far, the students have had a very positive response and are eager for their next house group events.
“I will say I think the students were kind of nervous at first," Arpin admitted. "But once we got going, they realized that they could have a lot of fun with it.”
It's hoped that by the end of the school year, the house groups will have a positive impact on students' attendance, academic performance, and feelings towards their school.
“What you're hoping for is that students will attend more because they want to be here, or that they'll do better at school because they're happier here and more comfortable asking for help,” Knutsen explained.
“Those are the side effects you want out of it but I think it's too early to tell if any of that's happened,” she conceded.
The next big event for the house groups is slated for February, and will be similar to the Winter Olympics or a winter carnival-type event.
Knutsen, meanwhile, hopes to get some community members involved so the teachers can focus on participating with the students instead of running the events themselves.
“The house groups give us a really good opportunity to get to know students that you don't necessarily have in your class,” Knutsen noted.
“It's a great way of providing students another caring adult in the school; another person for kids to go to when they need something,” she reasoned.
Knutsen added that having teachers develop a stronger connection with more kids will help to build a better sense of community at the school, which is one of the key objectives of the program.
“Really, why we do it is so that students can feel like they're part of FFHS,” she said.
“If students don't play on a sports team or if they aren't into band, this is another way for them to get involved.”
In the future, the house groups committee is considering hosting a Mario Cart Championship and ice-sculpting competition to ensure they're covering all the students' personalities and interests through different events.
“I think the key to the house groups' success has been the positive response from staff and administration, and the students themselves being willing to step out of their comfort zone and try these things,” Knutsen said.
“We're hoping it's going to have some lasting effects.”