Structure School Days for Emotional and Academic Well-Being
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Structure your School Days for Emotional and Academic Well-Being

Abby Wilson
Jun 14, 2023

Almost anyone can think back to a time when they were caught unprepared at school - maybe there was a worksheet your peers were handing in and you can’t seem to remember where you put yours, or you were walking into a test fully unprepared because the night before you had a family emergency. Most of the time, you’re facing these situations alone–after all it was your responsibility to remember the deadline or the assignment. But for some students in school today, this idea of going at it alone is completely foreign–they have a Crew. 

Teaching to the whole child is critical to academic success - students cannot thrive if their emotional needs are unmet. That’s why Newsela recently hosted a panel during Mental Health Awareness Month to talk with school leaders and EL Education about how Crew works and how schools can structure their days for students’ emotional and academic well-being. Incorporating Crew can help teachers meet the needs of students and set them up for success. The panelists were: 

  • Dan Cogan-Drew, Chief Academic Officer at Newsela

  • Ron Berger, Senior Advisor, Teaching & Learning at EL Education 

  • Laina Cox, Chief of Staff/Head of School Elect at Capital City Public Charter School 

  • Derek Pierce, Principal at Casco Bay High School

The Crew Network, created by EL Education, is a system in schools where every student has a “Crew” of their peers, led by a faculty member. Crews provide a type of support system within the school so students don’t feel left out, they have peers looking out for their emotional and academic needs, and they have people to lean on when they are going through a rough time. Crews become responsible for each others’ well-being and foster a sense of community. Ron Berger from EL Education compared it to being on a sports team or in a school play where everyone’s in community with one another and working towards a common goal. For Crew members, the goal is emotional and academic success. 

How to structure your day with Crew

Derek Pierce from Casco Bay High School, shared that in his high school, Crews stay together for all four years, so every student is paired with the same 15 or so familiar faces year to year. Each Crew member has a faculty leader and even as the Principal, Derek has a Crew. Crews meet daily and occasionally they have what they call a “Courageous Conversation,” where students can safely explore tough topics that affect their community. 

They have “Fun Fridays” where Crews figure out their own ways to build community and joy within the school. Crew leaders at each grade level provide the roadmap for any given week. 

Why Crew works: 

Laina Cox from Capital City Public Charter School also shared a story that encapsulated the support that Crews provide for students. A student noticed that a member of her Crew wasn’t prepared to present his final project and it was possible he wouldn’t be able to graduate. The student called an emergency Crew meeting to help her struggling peer prepare and refine his presentation, insisting that they “would not be the first Crew to not graduate together.” This is exactly what Laina, the school leader, was hoping would be the outcome of daily Crew meetings where students are supported both academically and emotionally by their peers, and that students know when to step in and help without being asked.  

Derek shared that students at his school are given a “Final Word:” on the verge of graduation students share who they are and what they’re about in a speech to the community. One student shared that Crew made school worthwhile. Derek said that Crew doesn’t just happen during “Crew Time” it’s a structure for building community that can mean hiking together, helping students through a family members’ death, or even supporting students when their future plans might not come through.

Crew is the foundation upon which these school leaders help build emotional and academic success at their schools, and students need it. Often, students aren’t forthcoming with how they’re feeling about school. Parents' eternal question, “How was school?” is more often than not met with a non-descript “Good.” But these stories of success are proof of how important emotional support from peers and teachers is to students experience of school and their ability to achieve.

For more about how to implement Crew at your school, you can watch the panel discussion here

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