Montini House Wins International Award
By Megan Peterson, Features/Multimedia Editor
August 10, 2023
MCHENRY—At first glance, Ron Clark Academy’s house system may look conjured up by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling: students finding belonging in a group, complete with assigned characteristics, point systems and colorful medieval-styled crests. 
Those books’ house system — its teambuilding, tight-knit friendships and excitement — resonates with students. The Ron Clark Academy (RCA) uses that as a powerful tool to develop students’ character and teach values.  
At Montini Catholic Schools in McHenry, the RCA house system has found a home where teachers guide students in Catholic virtue. On July 12-14, the school’s House of Isibindi reached new heights when it was crowned the International House of the Year at the Ron Clark Academy Awards. 
The RCA house system
RCA’s house system began with the school, which was established by teachers Ron Clark and Kim Bearden in a warehouse in south Atlanta, Ga. After years of fundraising and renovations, the school opened in 2007. 
The nonprofit middle school welcomes fourth- through eighth-grade students from varied socioeconomic and academic backgrounds. It also serves educators across the country as a demonstration school where they can observe classrooms and learn in workshops. 
The house system, according to, was made to unify the students and “create a positive climate and culture for students and staff.” Teachers use an app to track students’ progress and award points and comments. 
The system has four main houses for international competition, each based on a different country’s heritage: 
-- Isibindi (green), the South African “house of courage”;
-- Altruismo (black), the Brazilian “house of givers”;
-- Amistad (red), the Mexican “house of friendship,”; and 
-- Rêveur (blue), the French “house of dreamers.” 
Montini’s house award was announced at the RCA 
HouseCon conference, this year on July 12-14. The annual house awards are based on points tracked in the app and include: 
-- Ultimate House of the Year;
-- International House of the Year, with one awarded for each of the four main houses; and 
-- International House Ambassador of the Year. 
The teachers’ conference inspires teachers to return to their schools, “create a sense of belonging” for students and families and “ignite a passion for learning.” 
That’s what teachers have done at Montini Primary Center and Montini Middle School.  
Houses impact Montini
Both Montini schools started using the RCA house system in the fall of 2020, and it is run by a team of dedicated teachers. Casey Porch serves as the main organizer of the houses and Sherry Huffy serves as the house leader. 
In an email to The Observer, marketing and admissions director Sarah Springer explained: “The house system allows us to employ a team approach to enrich our eighth-graders and nurture their leadership skills.”
At the middle school, fourth- through eighth-grade students are sorted randomly into the four houses. Kindergarten through third-grade students at the primary center are sorted based on teacher, which gives the McHenry program a wider age range than the RCA’s.
How do the teachers choose the right students for each house — brave students for the House of Isibindi, for instance? 
The RCA’s response is simple: let the student grow into it. 
The House of Isibindi, as the RCA website says, “welcomes creative and quiet kids and turns them into leaders over time.” They learn that “their quiet creativity can be harnessed to speak volumes in its own way.”
It’s an answer that welcomes growth, reminiscent of Philippians 1:6: “The one who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Students learn to lead
The houses are led by eighth-graders. Last year’s leaders were Brooke Snyder, Olivia Meyer, Kiera Hudak, Natalee Henkel and Amanda Garrelts. 
But all ages have a role to play. That’s why the school builds “family time” into its schedule during the last period on Fridays. During these meetings, the older students assist the younger ones and the younger ones learn character development and build friendships. New students are welcomed into community. 
Meetings are all student-run and student-organized, teaching students life skills such as meeting organization and phone and email communication. 
Together each group participates in teambuilding activities and service projects for the school and community. One of the House of Isibindi’s projects last year was explaining stewardship in a video for the Diocesan Stewardship Appeal — for which they won third place. 
On Aug. 8, Montini hosted its incoming leaders and encouraged them to “act upon their servant hearts” in downtown McHenry. 
And with that, Montini’s houses of Isibindi, Altruismo, Amistad and Rêveur entered a new year. 
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