SIOUX CITY -- Alaina Nelson was getting quite a workout Friday afternoon, wrapping her Liberty Elementary School classmate Jaiden Schnitzel up in red ribbon.
"I'm supposed to be a mummy," Jaiden said, admiring Alaina's handiwork. "I can barely move."
The two students were both participating in Liberty's "House Games," which was part "Minute to Win It"-style game show and part team-building exercise, according to principal Stacie Henderson.
"At the start of the school year, each new student is assigned to a different house, which crosses grade levels and staff," she explained. "We do this as a way to a family climate."
Each house is named after a word that represents a different culture in Liberty's diverse student population.
For instance, House WaWaSak, represented by a black bear mascot, is the Ho Chunk-Winnebago word for determination, while House Ubora, represented by an elephant, is the Swahili word for excellence, and House Valor, represented by a green turtle, is the Spanish word for courage.
Also, House Kaulike, which has a humpback whale as a mascot, comes from the Hawaiian word for justice, and House Perseverance, with an American bald eagle, obviously comes from a common English word.
Similarly, mummy wannabes Jaiden and Alaina represented House Hoa Hop, which has a dragon for a mascot, and comes from the Vietnamese word for harmony.
"House teams meet on a weekly basis, both within and across grade levels," Henderson said. "This gives students a common identity and a sense of ownership."
Plus it gives kids the chance to talk about the timed challenges they want to participate in at each "House Game," which occurs every two to three months.
"This is their reward," Henderson said, "Students have earned the chance to have some fun time at school."
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Student contestants are selected based on different criteria. This time, students like Jaiden and Alaina were chosen because they were sent to the principal's office for good reasons.
Wait, aren't kids usually sent for being bad? Henderson said her students are much more likely to see her for positive behavior than for corrective behavior.
Kevin Betolla and Jose Centineo have also earned the right to be "House Game" contestants. That's why Kevin was trying to bounce a ping-pong ball into a bucket on top of Jose's head.
"This is really hard to do," Kevin said, bouncing one ball after another. "I think I got one in."
Actually, both Kevin and Jose did well for House Fursad, which is represented by a leopard, and gets its name from the Somali word for opportunity.
Even Henderson gets to join in on the fun.
Representing Team Jayu, which is represented by a Siberian tiger and comes from the Korean word for freedom, she has the task of extracting a blueberry from a cup of Jell-O.
Oh, did we forget? Henderson isn't allowed to use her hands during this stunt.
"Somehow, it seems like the school staff end up doing all of the messy things at 'House Games,'" she said with a laugh."
Henderson doesn't seem to mind. After all, she brought the House concept to Liberty four years ago, after seeing it implemented successfully elsewhere.
"This concept works because it allows younger students to interact with older students and gives everyone a chance to work with all school staff," she said.
"Schools shouldn't be a scary place," Henderson continued. "It should be a place where they want to go to because it feels like home to them."