House systems like the one established by USM’s Upper School are designed to foster community and build school spirit. Upper School faculty members Marja Konkol and Jennifer Mielke recently spoke with four current and previous house captains—Audrey Engman ’20, Tripp Grebe ’19, Kara Skowlund ’19, and Darby Tevlin ’19—to get their opinions on the role of the house program at USM, and what is has meant to them.
Yale has a house system, and so does Harvard. Perhaps the most famous is the fictional one at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. And, since 2010, Upper School students have enjoyed being sorted into one of four houses: Academy, Arrow, Crest, or Ledger (the names are based on the titles of yearbooks and newspapers from USM’s predecessor schools). Each house has two captains and approximately 100 students. Within their houses, students are placed in “families” that consist of two or three members of each grade. USM’s house program builds strong relationships across grade levels and includes friendly competitions throughout the year, which houses use to accrue points toward winning the House Cup in the spring. The program has evolved into an important part of the Upper School culture, as well as an excellent opportunity for students to develop their leadership skills.
What do you think the house program brings to the Upper School?
Kara Skowlund ’19: It adds a sense of community. The family aspect brings camaraderie with other grade levels.
Tripp Grebe ’19: It also builds school spirit. The spirit that the house program brings out in people permeates into sporting events and other aspects of school life.
Darby Tevlin ’19 (pictured opposite page, far left): It’s cool that the program ties in traditional aspects from the predecessor schools through the names of the four houses.
What does the program do to help make freshmen and other new Upper School students feel welcome?
DT: When I was a freshman Nabeel Quryshi ’18 was in my house family, and I really respected and admired him. I felt really cool being able to talk to him and say hi to him in the hall, and he even helped me with my homework! You’re inserted into a community from the beginning, which adds to a sense of belonging and inclusion.
KS: House captains are familiar faces throughout the year—people know who they are. It’s also helpful that captains can range in age from sophomores to seniors. It’s a group of people who are very approachable for freshmen and new students.
What motivated you to run for house captain?
Audrey Engman ’20: As a freshman I attended the back-to-school dance in the fall [during which houses dress up in different themes], and it was the first time I really felt part of the community. That was really impactful for me. I was really welcomed and I wanted other freshmen and underclassmen to have that same feeling.
TG: It’s one of the first leadership positions students can run for, and it has a very prevalent public image. Not only do you have a leadership position, you’re known as a leader, which is a big responsibility. It’s a good stepping stone for people who strive to be prefects their senior year.
What leadership skills have you developed as a house captain?
KS: Acting as a liaison between the student body and the faculty and administration taught me how to effectively approach adults and accomplish tasks. I learned how to understand and listen to others’ opinions, and also how to assert myself when I need to.
TG: Learning how to deal with logistics and planning things was really important for me. It really teaches you how to communicate and be persuasive with your ideas, and how to clearly articulate your ideas.
DT: For me, a big lesson was time management—how to be efficient and get things done.
AE: I ran once before and did not win, but in retrospect, I’m not sure I had the leadership skills necessary at the time. I’m glad I put myself out there again.
Does the competition aspect of the house program enhance it?
KS: The range of activities—from soccer and Quidditch to trivia and drone flying—really touches on many abilities and interests and appeals to many students. For me, though, what it comes down to is the bonding with your house family.
DT: Yes. While everyone is cheering for their own house, the competition increases school spirit and makes it more fun. Everyone is rooting for the same result, but it doesn’t create enemies or animosity.
TG: It’s unique in that winning the House Cup comes down to competition in many different activities, ranging from academics to athletics, and that people strive to win.
Marja Konkol is an Upper School science teacher, and Jennifer Mielke is an Upper School Spanish teacher. They have served as house liaisons since 2015. From left Jennifer Mielke, Audrey Engman ’20, Tripp Grebe ’19, Kara Skowlund ’19, and Marja Konkol.
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