Hayden Valley Middle School launches new House Systems program with support from staff, students, community

John Camponeschi
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Hayden Valley Middle School students participate in a team-based competition at the first House Systems sorting ceremony on Friday, Sept. 8, 2023.
John Camponeschi/ For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Hayden Middle School is launching a new student-centered program designed to promote teamwork, community, inclusivity and competition.

The House Systems program is based on a vision held by Haley Beurskens, a middle school science teacher at Hayden Valley Middle School. Its inception is an effort to promote student identity, social and emotional intelligence, maturity and presence in community.

The concept behind the system is based on research Beurskens conducted when she was teaching in Kentucky. Through a post-COVID motivation to boost morale, she was encouraged by the Ron Clark Academy, a school in Atlanta that used a similar model.

“I was totally inspired by the atmosphere that it created in the school,” Beurskens said. “When I came to Hayden the following year, I decided I would pitch it to the administrators. In such a small school, it is a great opportunity to be able to have a huge impact with relationships.”

The concept for House Systems revolves around the idea that all students are sorted into houses, which are mixed-grade level groups. Those houses then compete against each other in academic and physical tests throughout the school year.

Each house embraces and celebrates the school’s diversity by encompassing students of various backgrounds, ethnicities, ages and academic abilities into a single group. Once students are randomly assigned to a house, they are there for the duration of their time at the middle school. 

The school’s mascot — the tiger — serves as the basis for the four different houses that the students are sorted into. Those four houses are all language-based deviations of the district mascot and are called tiga (Hawaiian), tigris (Latin), tiogar (Irish) and tigre (Spanish).

Haley Beurskens, the educator behind the concept of Hayden Valley Middle School’s new House Systems program, presents at the 2023 student sorting ceremony.
John Camponeschi/For Steamboat Pilot & Today

The inaugural sorting ceremony, which featured staff, students, parents and administration, was Sept. 8 following a launch event that was hosted by the district last May. The House Systems kickoff was a massive success, according to Hayden Valley Middle School Principal Vicki Blomquist.

Each house possesses different student-designed attributes such as a crest, sign, motto and chants. Students participate in their house activities primarily during designated times of the school day.

The concept behind the program aligns with the Hayden Valley School District’s five-year strategic plan through a focus on the reinforcement of graduate characteristics while providing a boost to student and staff morale. Its design also improves engagement in activities from staff and students while providing incentives for academics, testing and attendance. 

“House Systems fit specifically under the student safety and belonging part of the strategic plan,” Principal Blomquist said. “House Systems are, in essence, a positive behavior program.”

Positive behavior programs are designed to instill, celebrate and teach positive behavioral attributes to students, and support social and emotional wellness in a school. Blomquist said these things need to be planned and well thought out, and pointed to the fact that students, through school-administered surveys, have provided data that will be used to steer House Systems. 

“It’s really building relationships with adults, students and community members while creating a culture that is not just one faceted. Instead it fosters a multifaceted feeling of collaboration, safety and belonging,” Beurskens added. “It applies just as much to staff as it does to students.” 

“I think it will allow me to make more connections with people who I am not really used to hanging out with,” student Wesley Schmahl said of the impact the program could have on his life. 

Further, the program allows for the communal development of what Beurskens describes as a “natural mentoring system,” owing to the presence of healthy competition as well as having a wide variety of age groups within one house.

Individually, students experience intrinsic benefits by making themselves a part of “something bigger than just them.”

“They are not responsible for just themselves anymore,” Beurskens said. “Their behavior, their attitude, their work ethic, all of these things contribute to their house as a whole, and it is an opportunity for them to understand teamwork.”

“I like it and think it gives a lot of opportunity for growth in many people,” said Angelina Vreeman, another student at the school.

The Hayden community appears to support the initiative too, as evidenced by a high level of participation at the kickoff event last spring. There is a strong belief that as the program continues, there will be a deepening of the understanding surrounding the event and that support will in turn grow as well.

School leadership has fielded a lot of questions from the community, particularly regarding the “whys” that surround the program, and the staff of Hayden Valley Middle School has been open and willing to embrace the program’s rollout and melding into school operations.

“We have a stellar staff that has come together and said that this is a priority and that we are going to work hard to make this priority succeed,” Blomquist said.

The program is not, however, without its challenges.

“Time is limited in a school … so we need to set aside the appropriate amount of time and really do it well so that it grows and it becomes something that we are known for and is part of our excellence and our innovation,” Blomquist explained.

Funding also presents obstacles as well. The program is partially funded through a grant that has been issued to the district. Outside of that funding, however, both Blomquist and Beurskens said that fundraising will be instrumental to the program’s success and endurance.

“I just know my team and I know that we can get hard things done,” Beurskens concluded. “We will find the time to do it because we believe in it and we want it for the kids. Given the opportunity, these students can come up with something incredible that could really have a lasting impact.”

Editor’s note: John Camponeschi is a history teacher at Hayden Valley Middle School in addition to working as a freelance writer for the Steamboat Pilot & Today.

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