A quarter of Silver City Elementary students gathered recently for some singing, jumping, cheering and hugging.
It resembled something one might find at a pep rally, but the display of pride and spirit was just part of the school’s shuttle program.
Adopted from the house structure at the Ron Clark Academy, Silver City’s program divides students in kindergarten through fifth grade into groups named for America’s space shuttles — Atlantis, Challenger, Columbia, Discovery, Endeavor and Enterprise.
The concept is simple: Split into separate groups and have the children build team spirit, learn from each other and take pride in their house families.
“We began it last year and we kind of perfected it this year,” said Principal Paige Andrews. “I really think that it creates excitement about coming to school and it kind of gives them a sense of belonging.
“They feel like it’s a team that they belong to. You have a Silver City team, but you also have a shuttle team.”
Each shuttle team meets every 12 days. When shuttle Atlantis gathered recently, the students learned a new team cheer and sang the school song.
Arm in arm, they encouraged each other — exactly what Andrews was hoping for from the program.
“Students need to feel like they belong,” she said. “The team building in smaller groups is an effective way for kids to feel pride in their school and also to support each other … and the kids seeing their teachers enjoying themselves and that school is a fun, positive place, it just creates a great culture.”
Silver City was the first Forsyth school to try the program, but others have taken note and started their own.
At Mashburn Elementary, the school is also divided into six groups — Amina, Erevu, Gamba, Jabari, Mahari and Sonke. They represent integrity, ingenuity, strength, courage, loyalty and respect, respectively.
The groups, or houses, each have a different color. Much like the popular “Harry Potter” stories, Mashburn students learned which house they would join during a special ceremony.
Students pulled colored stickers and were cheered and welcomed by others from their group.
All six teams at Mashburn meet on the same day once every three weeks, donning their house color to show pride.
Each meeting focuses on a lesson about the various character traits of the different houses.
Shiloh Point Elementary is also participating in the house initiative.
Principal Rebecca Johnson said because the school is the county’s largest elementary, “our houses are quite large.”
“They are a lot of fun, as you can imagine,” she said. “And we are working hard to build the community and to make sure that all children feel connected to the school and are contributing.”
The Forsyth programs are modeled after the Ron Clark Academy, where several teachers from both schools have taken part in staff training.
Mashburn Principal Tracey Smith said half the school’s staff went last year. The results were so successful, parents and the parent/teacher organization raised funds for the other 23 teachers to attend the academy.
“It’s been amazing and most of all, crazy fun,” Smith said. “It’s also driven our new vision for the school of developing deep levels of relationships , engagement and rigor.”
At the Ron Clark Academy, the houses compete, earning points for behavior, academics and other positive accomplishments. One house is the victor by year’s end.
At Silver City, the competitive aspect has been diluted, while at Mashburn the competition has been removed completely.
“This is not a competition,” Smith said. “The reason we didn’t want it to be a competition is because we don’t want one house to be of more importance than the other. This is more of a community thing.”
While both schools will continue to grow the program to include academics, the current focus is on the social aspect of being a model student.
Mashburn is using the house system to promote the school’s rules dubbed the Mashburn 20. Those include good manners, playing safely, being good winners and losers, making eye contact, holding the door open and honesty.
The model relies heavily on the leadership of fifth-graders. They are responsible for helping kindergarteners make it to house meetings, driving up team spirit throughout the day and leading team activities.
“If a kindergartener needs something, an older kid is there,” Smith said. “They are modeling appropriate behavior for these little guys and it’s giving these little guys a model to look up to, to kind of emulate.”
Smith and Andrews said focus could shift toward academics, but even with the current format, there’s a marked improvement.
“When children feel like they belong to something and when they come to school, to a positive environment, that does increase academic growth,” Andrews said.
“I think that they go hand in hand. You have to have a positive environment and you have to have children that want to come to school every day.”
Smith said she’s already seen an impact.
“We have noticed a huge difference in attitude and behavior and that’s going to [show up] in test results because if they’re engaged in what they’re doing and enjoying being at school, then they’re going to be engaged in learning,” Smith said.