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BANNER, Fall 2013: The Heron Cup: Building an Upper School Community

On the opening day of school, the 160-plus Upper School students gathered in the School Meeting House and were separated into "houses," given a color, and in some cases a rather odd sounding name.   Thus began an exciting new initiative in Grades 6, 7 and 8 - the Heron Cup.

Head of Upper School Evan Diamond explains that the purpose of the Heron Cup is, “to engender better cohesion and community building across the grades in the US through teamwork, fun, friendly competition, collective goal setting, leadership, support of positive behavior and conduct, and role modeling for the entire school.”

Evan explains that because of the way Brookwood’s Upper School is organized, children from different grades actually have few opportunities to interact with each other. “A typical division model has teachers specializing in a discipline but teaching across grades.  At Brookwood, we have a unique operating structure in the US in that teachers specialize in both a discipline and grade which creates very cohesive teams and a closely knit experience for the kids,” Evan says.

“I really felt that we didn't have enough opportunities to gather together as a division, and the Heron Cup is a deliberate way to do so.  With houses that span the three grades and faculty mixed from various teams, the Heron Cup transcends the team approach and allows us to maintain all of the benefits of the team model while also creating new opportunities for students across grade levels to develop relationships and connections,” he says.

The 10 Upper School houses are each named after a constellation – Centaurus (Centaur), Draco (Dragon), Lynx (Lynx), Pavo (Peacock), Volans (Flying Fish), Delphinus (Dolphin), Lacerta (Lizard), Monoceros (Unicorn), Ursa Major (Great Bear), Vulpecula (Fox). Each House comprises equal numbers of sixth, seventh and eighth graders; and students are assigned a house in sixth grade and remain in that house until graduation. Upper School teachers are assigned, two apiece (one woman and one man) as faculty advisors to a house, and every house has an assigned color combination. Finally, each house has a crest, motto, and cheer and those are designed by the house members themselves.

And what would the constellations revolve around were there not a Polaris? Grade 6 Advisor Marcus Young is the Heron Cup’s Polaris and as the coordinator has been at the fore of all planning and implementation of activities. 

“Working with Evan to develop the Heron Cup and then see it come to life once the kids returned to school in September has been really rewarding,” Marcus says. “The program has such great potential, and it’s been fun to watch the kids’ excitement about it.”  Heron Cup activities so far have included tug of war contests, design challenges, morning "minute to win it” activities, field games, and trivia face-offs.

Much more is planned in the coming months. There will be activities like round robin kick-ball games and simpler things like having Houses sit together on Friday morning Town Meetings or having House members all sit together at lunch.

As Evan points out, the “overarching philosophy is to use competition to engender cooperation among the Houses. The competition of the Heron Cup is the vehicle and not the objective.”