Council Interview Series (Part 4): The 35th House Captains

By Ian Cheng (16S03M) and Collin Teo (16S06Q)

“Be RED-y to say we BBlew you away. (laughs) Haha HHope that we will BWave the HHeights.” – House Captains 2015

For the readers who managed to read the above quote without cringing or heaving a sigh of resignation, kudos to you. That was but one of the many quips that Raffles Press experienced during our lively interview with the 35th House Captains, which will serve as the final instalment of our Council Interview Series. (Click here to view the full interview transcript.)

2015 house

The 35th House Captains pose for a picture without the writers of the Council Interview Series.
L to R: Sim Wei Shi, Gao Yanxin, Zhang Anli, Cherie Poon, Valerie Kwan

Making up the House system are Buckle-Buckley (BB), Hadley-Hullett (HH), Morrison-Richardson (MR), Moor-Tarbet (MT), and Bayley-Waddle (BW). They’re led by a team of House Executive Members, which comprises the House Directorate from the Students’ Council, and the House Committee. Heading the Houses are the House Captains: Valerie Kwan, Gao Yanxin, Cherie Poon, Sim Wei Shi and Zhang Anli respectively.

Role of the Houses
“Houses exist to enrich our school experience because ultimately, that is what the Students’ Council wants to do – to add colour to our time in Raffles and to give us a sense of family and sense of belonging.” Anli began the interview by giving this take on the rationale for Houses. It’s clear from the House Captains’ responses that they believe fervently in the House cause. To them, the House experience is an integral part of JC life that gives students an opportunity to be part of “a community of friends that’s very big and diverse”. This allows for the formation of new friendships and is meant to develop a greater sense of connection to the school.

If this sounds similar to the Council’s mission, that’s because it’s meant to be – the House Spirit, as Yanxin told us, is meant to be a subset of school spirit. As she put it, “through Houses we help to build their identity and make them feel a sense of belonging to the House … by extension overtime, it will be a sense of belonging to the school.” The Houses, therefore, serve as groups to which all students can attach to. Ultimately, the ties built through interactions both intra and inter House are meant to add to the student’s overall school experience. Valerie summed it up to us this way, “House is like cake icing, with the cake base being the school. Icing may not be absolutely essential, because cakes are good stuff, but icing takes the cake to a whole new level. And that, is the purpose of the Houses: To make school more fun, more enjoyable, and more memorable.”

Mission
As with the Pressecs (Presidents and Secretaries), the Houses too have set their missions to guide them for their Council term. These missions are aligned with the main Council mission (which you can read about here!), and “even though it might seem different when differently phrased, they embody the same values”, Cherie explained. The five Houses’ missions are as follows:

BB: Forge a unique Buckle-Buckley identity that BB-ians are proud of. We will be a united House, an inclusive family.

HH: Being relevant to the needs of House members to create an inclusive and passionate family.

MT: Create a strong MT House identity through which we can cultivate an inclusive and bonded school community where everyone can create fond memories through fun and meaningful experiences.

MR: Empower MR-ians to be actively involved in House activities which cater to every MR-ian so as to create a sustainable sense of pride and unity within the House.

BW: Spread the passion for BW through a familiar environment where strong friendships are forged with every House Directorate member putting a concerted effort into creating personal friendships with every BW-ian, ensuring that BW’s presence is sustained as part of their school identity.

From the missions, it’s evident that there are certain themes consistent across the Houses, chief among them the idea of inclusivity. In fact, it’s so common that the word “inclusive” is used in BB’s, HH’s and MT’s missions, and the notion of it is also present in MR and BW’s missions. To build this inclusiveness, Yanxin emphasised the need to appeal to students, saying, “we target the different needs-what they want and what they are good at”. By tailoring initiatives such that students are encouraged and willing to participate, the House Captains can ensure a healthy level of involvement in House events.

The missions also focus on building passion for the Houses. This is, as earlier explained, in line with the Student Council’s goal this year to develop an increased sense of ownership. As students create closer ties to school groups such as House, they feel more attached to the school and have a bigger stake in shaping the school’s direction.

Finally, the missions touch on the concept of sustainability. The inevitability for each organisation in Raffles, be it the Student’s Council, the House System, or CCAs, is that each batch comes and goes. This means people with experience are constantly leaving, and their ideas and initiatives, which may not have been actualised during their term, are not necessarily picked up by the next batch. Thus, short-term initiatives that develop a certain value or passion aren’t sufficient-there needs to be a long-term plan to build a self-sustained community effort.

With these three main values in mind – inclusiveness, passion and sustainability, the House Captains look set to make a meaningful impact in their term.

Events and Initiatives
Every year, the Houses organise various initiatives both big and small. The major mainstays include the IHC Remix and IHC Sports, which are held every year under different themes. (This year’s themes are Orion: The Fire Within and TŪHURA: Uncharted Territories respectively). These events each have a wide variety of activities, with the Remix containing the highly popular Dramafeste, Dancefeste and Musicfeste while IHC Sports has what its name would suggest: different sporting acitvities. During these large-scale events, the House Captains do their best to whip up House Spirit and fervour among their fellow Housemates.

Aside from school-wide events, smaller initiatives are organized by the House Committees for their respective Houses. These small initiatives, as Yanxin told us, are where Houses can “give a fresh perspective in the sense that we try to find a different way to help the school in providing for the welfare of the students.” Anli then furthered this point by bringing up BW’s Make a Wish initiative, a novel initiative in which BWians would write wishes on notes and put them into a box in the Canteen Walkway, following which the BW House Committee would try their best to fulfill that wish. To him, this exemplified the special role of Houses as, “it can add a personal touch to the whole initiative that we are trying to carry out…I can just mass produce a lot of welfare packs and just distribute it out, but then there’s a difference in the personal touch.”

For their term, the 35th House Captains, along with their members from the House Directorate, have come up with some ideas of their own for new initiatives. Anli, Wei Shi and Cherie told us that they were considering a “House Week”, which would “basically [be] a week dedicated to encouraging the House Spirit of every single House.” It would be a time where “the whole school  celebrates the House…we can wear accessories or whatever represents the Houses on that day.” This sounds very similar to Spirit Week, but specifically targeted at Houses.

Problems, Challenges and Solutions
It’s comforting to know the House Captains have so many ideas and events planned out for us. Yet, Raffles Press did note some potential problems they might face in their term ahead.

Unity or Division?
First, we raised the issue of whether Houses divide more than they unite. After all, House Captains encourage students to take part in the events with passion, which can lead to intense Inter-House competition. In turn, this might foster a sense of rivalry exacerbated by conflicts arising from the heat of competition.

However, the House Captains chose to see the competition taking place as light-hearted contests. As Wei Shi put it,  “the Houses interact through friendly competition because it’s not a very serious affair where you want to kill the opposition. It’s a work together kind of thing, where you want to have fun through friendly interactions.” At the same time, Cherie acknowledged the presence of some unhealthy rivalry and said, “I think our responsibility is to ensure that as House Captains, we have try to change this notion through our initiatives and emphasize this through friendly competitions, not rivalry.”

Bigger – Necessarily Better?
As stated earlier, the highlights of the House experience are the big events – IHC Remix and IHC sports. Undoubtedly, these are excellent ways to forge strong and long-lasting experiences and memories for students to hold on to and cherish. As Yanxin said, “If we went through IHC or we go for Dancefeste and Musicfeste, then that would be a period which we actually invest a lot of time for something…when you look back on your JC life, that would be one significant event in your life that you would remember, and it was an opportunity that was given to you by House.” It’s often not the “small” matters (like the score for your recent class test) that we’ll remember in the future, but instead the time-consuming, pain-inducing, yet highly rewarding experiences that one might have during the preparation for a major event like Dramafeste.

With that being said, there might perhaps be an over reliance on these large-scale events to foster House Spirit, resulting in a lack of sustained House Spirit over the year. This was an issue admitted by the House Captains themselves as Cherie told us, “I think the issue of sustainability of House Spirit isn’t fully addressed in our school because after the big events and IHC Remix and Sports, there are not many initiatives that go on to keep the House Spirit high”. Anli further commented that, “During our CTs (Common Tests) and our Promos (Promotional Examinations), it’s very taxing from our point of view as well, for us to carry out any heavy initiatives.”

While it’s a difficult problem to solve, the House Captains were not without ideas. Anli raised the possibility of using social media to constantly communicate with Housemates and “create the same sense that the House is always there”. Wei Shi also chipped in, saying that “maybe during peak periods for students…a way to keep the House Spirit present would be to cater to the welfare of the students because everyone is stressed during this time.”

Fringe Members
Some of us may have that friend or classmate who doesn’t really take part in any House events (or school events for that matter), and is disinterested in the whole idea of House or perhaps occupied with other commitments like studying. When we discussed this matter, Yanxin emphasised the importance of “[reflecting] on what we are doing [as] there must be a reason why they don’t participate, maybe they are just lazy, or they don’t feel the spirit and maybe what we are doing is just not what they are interested in.” She, like Anli, also suggested the use of a platform like social media to reach out and communicate with all students.

Houses within our Home
As a worldwide feature in numerous schools, Houses have the ability to build a sense of group loyalty, heightening our attachment to our fellow Housemates, batchmates, and the school. Ultimately, it all adds on to the notion that school is like a home away from home, a sentiment we believe is shared by many. It’s thus imperative that the House Executive Members take care to properly nurture the House Spirit.

Finally, nearing the end of our interview we asked the House Captains to provide us with a few rallying calls for their Houses, which we’re now going to share with you. In view of the concluding IHC sports season, we hope all participants have gone forth and done their best!

BB: Sup BBians! Be excited. Because you are going to have a great year ahead. BB House D is extremely happy to be serving you, and we’ll unleash your beast within. BB Bazinga!

MT: MT-ians, we will make sure that your JC life will definitely be a time to remember. We have a lot of cool things in mind, so just be RED-y

HH: HHians! Let’s all have fun together while we fight our hearts out for HH. Trust that HHouse is your family who will be behind you all the way.

MR: MR-ians, you all are the House’s pride and joy, just remember that we are one united wolf pack who will always be there to support one another and to reach greater heights.

BW: BW, we are a family, we are ohana, made up of brothers and sisters, who will fight our hearts out knowing that we have our family behind us.

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