House systems are common experiences for students in boarding schools, especially in the U.K. but also in the U.S. The practical benefits of having a group to eat and live with in a residential school are pretty straightforward. However, the features of Houses extend to independent day schools and include:
- A strong sense of tradition
- A feeling of identity and belonging
- A supportive environment
- More leadership opportunities
- A spirit of striving to do your personal best to help the competition between the Houses
- An environment of accountability
- The ability to mentor young leaders
- The cultivation of Christian community and virtue
Supporting the School Mission
Our mission is to provide a high-quality, Christian liberal arts education in a nurturing environment that will enable each student to become the individual God intends.
The kind of “nurturing environment” that Bear Creek’s mission seeks to create is in which Upper School students work together to exemplify virtue, to build a sense of Christian community, and to lead and serve each other and their world through their unique gifts. We believe that a House, which comprises a group of 45 – 50 young men and women of all grades and 4 – 6 faculty mentors, provides the right mix to deliver on that mission.
First, Houses are primarily places of relating together while participating in games, service, discussions, and advising. Students and faculty engage with one another in structured and unstructured ways in a place where each student is known and experiences being a part of a group. A House gives Bear Creek a valuable structure for ensuring predictability and support in the lives of students.
Second, built into a House system is a blending of grades, which creates a natural mentoring environment. Older students take places of leadership and get to know the younger students in their Houses. Traditions develop and are passed on as seniors graduate and the next group of leaders steps forward. Having students and faculty get to know one another over several years provides a stability of relationship and benefits those who take a while to connect with others. A House system provides more formal and informal opportunities for leadership, as well as a space for healthy leadership culture to develop. With grade level leadership the benefits of learned experience in the community are more difficult to realize as each class starts from the beginning; however, a House system contains the wisdom of its experience over time.
Third, as a smaller locus point of community sustained over time, a House system gives Bear Creek a way to focus on growth in Christian virtue for our students. Houses, as small microcosms of the school, are perfect places to cultivate, identify, and celebrate growth in virtue. A House is large enough to see the diversity of God’s people using their gifts in ways that benefit the community, and small enough to notice and care for the ways that each student seeks to live out wisdom, compassion, and courage in its various forms.
Meitner House is symbolized by the atom for the sciences and is represented by the color emerald, or green. An understanding of the sciences, which includes mathematics and technology, as well as all forms of physical and biological sciences, is critical for appreciating fully the Creation and thus ourselves. Dr. Lise Meitner (1878 – 1968) was a dedicated woman of science who grew up in Austria and, after finishing the allowed course of studies for women, was privately tutored to continue her education. She earned a doctorate in math and physics. In Berlin she taught classes in quantum physics and studied radioactivity before she was forced to escape Nazi Germany. She was the first to calculate the amount of energy released during nuclear fission and coined the term fission based on her research. While her research helped lead others to develop the atomic bomb, she used it to help produce the first peacetime nuclear reactors and served on the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission (International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) after 1957). After retiring from research, she spent her time traveling, encouraging, and supporting female scientists in their careers, telling them, “Remember that science can bring both joy and satisfaction to your life.”
Athanasius House is symbolized by the honor torch for personal character and virtue and is represented by the color ruby, or red. St. Athanasius (296 – 373) was a Bishop of the Egyptian church and is one of the most significant thinkers and founders of the church. The books of the New Testament, as they appear in our modern Bibles, were first listed by Athanasius in 367 in his 39th festal letter to the congregations under his care. Exiled four times during his time as Bishop by Arian emperors, Athanasius was a steadfast defender of the orthodox view of Jesus’ dual natures as well as Trinitarian dogma. Most Christian communities recognize him now to be a foundational thinker of Christian beliefs, and his feast day is celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, and Anglican communions. Gregory of Nazianzus (another father of the church) called Athanasius “A Pillar of the Church,” and writing about him stated: “When I praise Athanasius, virtue itself is my theme: for I name every virtue as often as I mention him who was possessed of all virtues. He was the true pillar of the church. His life and conduct were the rule of bishops, and his doctrine the rule of the orthodox faith."
Hildegard House is symbolized by the quill for the arts and letters and is represented by the color amethyst, or purple. Hildegard of Bingen (1098 – 1179) was a female monastic who founded two monasteries, wrote many works of Christian art, including one play, and was elevated to the title of Doctor of the Western Church by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012. An Abbess in the Benedictine Order, and regarded as a polymath, Hildegard was a Christian mystic whose personal encounters with Christ through visions shaped her theology and her works of art. She wrote medical, botanical, and theological texts, in addition to numerous musical compositions (sixty-nine still survive) and one of the oldest surviving morality dramas of the West, the Ordo Virtutum. She continues to inspire musicians and healers to this day.
Robinson House is symbolized by the winged shoe for athletics competition and is represented by the color sapphire, or royal blue. Relating to the winged shoes on our school seal, it represents the forming of character through disciplined devotion. Jackie Robinson (1919 – 1972) exhibited this character and discipline by standing for equality of race despite violent and cultural opposition. He remains an example of seeing imago Dei – that we are all made in God’s image – as the highest calling of humanity rather than acquiescing to cultural standards. He lived his faith by embracing Christ’s call to stand firm for truth and demonstrate love even to those who persecute you, while relying on prayer and God’s strength to persevere.
Lewis House is symbolized by the book for the arts and letters and is represented by the color turquoise, or light blue. Referencing the book on our school seal, it represents the belief that students must be well read and able to join in the Great Conversation that occurs when thinking people read. C.S. Lewis’ writing and speeches both contributed to this conversation and beckoned others to enter into it. During his lifetime (1898 – 1963), Lewis wrestled with the implications of faith as a lived reality through his many apologetic and fictional works. He lived his faith by serving as president of Cambridge’s Socratic Society, which encouraged students to meet in order to wrestle with the intersection of intellect and faith.
Each House is led by both faculty and students. These positions include:
- House Deans are faculty who take overall leadership of the Houses and help facilitate all activities and student leadership within the House.
- House Faculty are the faculty who work at-large within the Houses and also facilitate a same-gender Mentor Group of about 10 – 13 students. Most full-time faculty take this role within a House.
- House Heads are student leaders who have applied for and been selected by House Deans to take primary leadership of their respective Houses. Each House has one male and one female House Head.
- House Leaders are students selected by House Deans to participate in the House leadership teams and work to implement House events and programs which are categorized by some broad goals: Morale, Service, Faith and Virtue, and Support.
The Dean of Students and the House Deans place freshmen and new transfer students into Houses in a way that maintains a strong, balanced mix of students in each House. Each House acts as a microcosm of the school; therefore, we seek to represent a diverse mix of personalities, passions, and strengths. As we learn about students through teacher, student, and parent input, the following criteria are considered:
- Relationships—How can we broaden students’ relationships to include more than their immediate peer groups?
- Gender—How can we balance gender representation in each House?
- Student strengths and personality—Where does each student excel and demonstrate passion and interest?
- Student leadership interest—Does this student already express a keen desire to serve in leadership, and how can we distribute that among the Houses?
- Legacy—Can we place the student into the House of an older sibling to enhance legacy and tradition?
Each spring the House Deans consult with Middle School teachers to learn more about current grade 8 students who will enter Upper School in the fall. In addition, rising freshmen and new transfer students and their parents give us information through our House Placement Questionnaire.
In the 2021 – 2022 school year, House Meetings will be anchored to Thursdays after lunch. House Meetings are great opportunities for building relationships through activities, and games. Our smaller Mentor Group meetings provide the kind of intimacy needed for good conversation and advising from House Faculty as well as time for spiritual formation and discussion.
- House Meetings—Typically business or planning meetings for House activities, as well as time to build morale or address topics related to virtue or school culture. These meetings sometimes include time to briefly break out into House Groups for discussion and check-in.
- Mentor Groups—Each House has four mentor groups (two groups of boys, two of girls) which meet together with a House advisor. These small groups are ideal for relationship and discussion on topics relative to chapel and faith formation as the groups and mentors remain consistent throughout all four years of high school.
- House Feasts—On these special days each House puts on a feast for its namesake, enjoying fellowship and inviting parents and siblings to attend.
- House Challenges—Activities are focused on competition between the Houses for the annual House Cup.