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How this service project is helping Chesterfield students serve their community

Posted at 8:44 PM, Mar 27, 2023

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- Greenfield Elementary was buzzing with energy Monday for “House Day;” the quarterly celebration of competition and service that stems from a system that’s part Harry Potter, part community outreach.

Every year, students at Greenfield are sorted into “houses” using a randomized electronic spinning wheel, whether they are kindergartners or new-to-the-school third graders. Students remain within their houses for the entirety of their time at Greenfield.

The school mascot is the Dragons, and the houses reflect it: fire dragons, ice dragons, sea dragons, sky dragons, and space dragons. The aim is to help build community within the school beyond a student’s immediate classroom or grade.

“Whether it’s in kindergarten or whether you come here in third, fourth, fifth grade, whatever, once you’re sorted in that house, you’re in that house until you leave,” said JP Gates, the P.E. teacher at Greenfield who helped launch the program. “That’s what this House system does. It allows us to interact from fifth grade to kindergartners.”

“All of our students matter, no matter where they came from, what walk of life. They get to meet everybody, and they feel more included, and they have friends across grade levels,” said Nick Leonard, the music arts teacher at Greenfield who also helped launch the house system.

The program began five years ago after a visit to an Atlanta area school that incorporated a similar system. Gates and Leonard said Greenfield has adapted and adjusted how they do things over the years.

Students earn points for their house throughout the year by completing tasks and referrals for good behaviors, among other things.

“So if you get a bus referral, that’s also adding points to your total,” Gates said.

“They know that they're part of something bigger than just their classrooms, they're part of their entire house system. So every single choice they make throughout the day and throughout the year affects their house and their representation of that house,” Leonard said.

Extending the program's reach beyond the school building is part of its growth. During House Days, the students of each house work together on a service project for others in the community.

Monday, students made cards and decorations that will be delivered to local nursing homes, first responders, and children’s hospitals.

“This could be the only card that someone gets, you know, and think about how special that's going to be that you were the one that provided such an uplifting moment for a stranger,” Gates said. “That's what we really need to try and push. Let's look at how we can make our community better. We're making our school community better, let's expand that.”

The educators at Greenfield judge the success of the program by student buy-in and the relationships they build. You can see what it means for the students by watching the video above and seeing the reaction from the space dragons when they won the quarterly contest.

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