- Crew: Establishing Belonging & Pride in a New School Community
Case Study: M.S. 419
A Crew Initiative School in Northern Corona, Queens
The opportunity to build a school from the ground up is rare — and challenging — but the staff at M.S. 419, a public middle school in Northern Corona, Queens, are committed to doing it right.
While preparing to open M.S. 419, Founding Principal Soledad Montañes worked out of neighboring Corona Arts and Sciences Academy (CASA), which has a long-standing partnership with NYC Outward Bound Schools. During that time, Soledad saw the power of Crew in action, and applied to join the Crew Initiative cohort with the intent of introducing the advisory structure to M.S. 419 to help amplify students’ individual strengths and foster a love of learning.
Teachers Chris Higgins and Marti Velez took on implementation of Crew at M.S. 419 as the school’s Crew Guides.
“Our sixth graders have been online for the most pivotal parts of their education so far,” said Chris. “Crew is helping with relationship-building and increasing student voice.”
Chris and Marti say the biggest challenge they faced was building teacher buy-in, since Crew was a brand new concept to nearly everyone.
Christian Narvaez, Director of Crew at NYC Outward Bound Schools, started working closely with M.S. 419 as their designated Crew Coach, bringing in professional development and consistently building out structures, norms and routines that would serve the school.
In addition to receiving coaching, Chris and Marti also had the chance to attend virtual and in-person convenings and visit other Crew Initiative schools to see how they put structures into place.
One simple yet pivotal structure has been the circle. Christian had M.S. 419’s teachers model a Crew session by sitting in a circle, which evokes community and equity of voice — both spatially and metaphorically.
“When we model the openings and activities at our PDs, everyone instantly turns back into the kid they once were,” said Chris.
“We showed them what’s possible in their own classrooms,” added Marti. “Now, at our weekly staff meetings, our teachers are sitting in a circle and asking to run the activities.”
Using these structures and routines successfully as a staff has helped M.S. 419 gain confidence and competence in bringing Crew into their classrooms — currently being piloted with the school’s sixth graders.
“I’m so grateful that Mrs. Velez is my Crew teacher,” said Emily, a sixth grader at M.S. 419. “I feel like I can tell her anything and she wouldn’t judge me. The Crew environment is wonderful.”
While it’s still early in the implementation phase, initial survey data around Crew looks promising.
In the fall of 2022, 39% of students surveyed felt that their teachers didn’t know them or only knew them a little, and only 11% of students surveyed felt that their teachers knew them really well.
By winter of 2023, the number of students who felt that their teachers didn’t know them or only knew them a little had decreased by 17 percentage points, while the number of students who felt that their teachers knew them really well had increased by 8 percentage points. This data aligns with what Chris and Marti are hearing from teachers who are excited to get to know their students on a deeper level.
There’s also been a positive shift in the percentage of students who say they feel like they belong in their school community from 54% to 66%.
Now equipped with the tools they need to successfully build out Crew in their school, M.S. 419 is adding their own traditions and rituals into the mix. “Tiger of the Month” — named for the school’s mascot — is a new celebration integrated into the Crew period that recognizes one student each month for upholding the school’s core values.
“The students get so excited about it and really show their support for each other,” said Chris. “As founding members, we set the tone. And with Crew, there’s a lot of opportunity to do this right.”