As I have mentioned before, the school with the most spirit is not necessarily the one with the loudest pep rallies, the most championship teams, or the most posters around the school at game time. Rather, the most spirited school is the one that has the largest percentage of students who feel like they belong. MPA is a place that promotes cooperation and support, where we feel pride and shared responsibility for helping each other be the best we can be.
With that in mind, I’d like to talk more about what it is about MPA that is so special, and two things come to mind: our House system, and the vast array of co-curriculars that we offer.
The MPA House system was launched at the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year. Modeled after systems found at British and Australian schools, all students, faculty, and staff are divided into four houses. Each is a member of that house for life. The houses — Blake, Norton, Theodore and Withington — are named after historic MPA leaders who served as role models for the community. The house system is intended to foster individual growth, develop student leadership, and create student relationships across grade levels.
As part of the team who researched and introduced the house system, my interest arose from the spirit-building opportunities these systems provided. Each month during the induction year, we celebrated the house with the most cooperation points. House Leaders planned house-related meetings, assemblies, and spirit activities. And after that first year, activities have expanded. From cheering challenges, to our annual tricycle and sled races, to this year’s boat challenge in the “lake” in Jones Bowl after a heavy rain, to socials and service opportunities, our house leaders plan events that the entire school participates in, bringing our school community together. These school-wide contests result in more positive interaction between students, faculty, and staff and create a sense of unity.
At the end of the school year, the House Cup is presented to the house with the most cooperation points. Each year as the winner is announced, I get to witness the excitement as leaders come to the stage to have their photos taken. The winning house’s name is then engraved on the Cup and displayed on campus for the next school year until the honor is handed over (or retained if the same house wins). Each year and with each house activity, I am amazed as our students come together to celebrate and start planning for the next challenge.
Another important part of the MPA experience (available to all 1st through 12th graders) is the vast array of co-curricular activities we offer here at the Academy. The co-curricular program allows all students the opportunity to experience different areas of interest, to build relationships with other students, to develop school spirit, and to have fun. Beyond the classroom, this involvement provides opportunities for community building as students work towards common goals.
Advising our Middle School Student Council this year has brought supporting student leadership full circle. Within the first few years of my being on campus, I was given the opportunity to advise Middle School Student Council and served in that position for many years. I was also appointed Director of Student Activities in 1978. Over the years, I have served as a swim coach for one season for a student who wanted to represent Morgan Park Academy, as a cheerleader coach, as the chess and science club leader, and many other roles.
Education is a team sport. Spirit is too. Without wonderful, generous partners over the years — current and past students, parents, staff, faculty, administrators, friends, and community members (all of whom value the spirit of Morgan Park Academy) — we would not have accomplished as much as we have. The success of our co-curricular activities over the years has, in large part, hinged on the support of our parents who have encouraged participation, provided transportation when needed, and attended and applauded at every opportunity.
And close to my heart, sustainability, which has been at the forefront of our co-curricular offerings. I will be putting my skills to use again as I plan and build my garden at my farm, taking with me memories and the spirit of students cutting our ornamental grasses, pulling weeds, planting of our global (community) garden, our outdoor classroom, and sore fingers and thumbs hit by the hammer.