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Case Study: NYC Lab School for Collaborative Studies

A Crew Initiative School in Chelsea, Manhattan

During the pandemic, NYC Lab School for Collaborative Studies (Lab), a public high school in Chelsea, implemented “Family Circle,” an advisory structure like Crew, to ensure they could check-in with students during virtual schooling. When students returned to school, administration felt that Family Circle was a key mechanism for promoting inclusion and equity, but needed support in figuring out how to fully integrate it into the fabric of the school.

This was particularly important, as Lab had eliminated their admissions screening processes, which diversified their student body both racially and socio-economically. Lab is also an Autism Spectrum Disorders Nest school, and enrolls a significant number of students with autism. They joined the Crew Initiative cohort in Fall 2021, where they started by building out a mission statement and purpose for Family Circle.

“Our students desire to share and feel safe. So we wanted to highlight that Family Circle is a moment of joy,” said Katrina Johrden, Lab teacher and Crew Guide. “It’s a great chance for students to get to know each other and develop those interpersonal skills.”

This year, the school has carved out a full class period for Family Circle during the school day, which allows teachers to use their prep time to plan, and gives students more reason to attend. Katrina and NYC Outward Bound Schools Crew Coach Hannah Read also began working with a core group of enthusiastic teachers to better plan and implement Family Circle, which they say has afforded more consistency and investment.

“Lab has made significant improvements around the way they structure lesson plans and resources for Family Circle teachers,” said Hannah. “There is more collaboration amongst teachers leading these classes, and the purpose and value of Family Circle is more clearly articulated. It was something we got a lot of input on, so it feels authentic.”

Data Dive

The work has started to pay off. In Fall 2021, 69% of Lab students surveyed said they felt like they belonged in their school community. Now, midway through their second year of Crew Initiative, that figure has increased by 10 percentage points.

Percentage change of students who feel like they belong in their school community.

What does Family Circle look like on a day to day basis? Katrina says that it varies, from discussing current events to engaging in team-building activities. More and more, students are opting to lead Family Circles. In February, for example, members of the Black Student Union volunteered to run circles themed around Black History Month.

This year, Lab also integrated an academic-focused Family Circle every other week to conference with students on their grades and progress. The next step is to bring select routines and structures from Family Circle into content-area classrooms, as well.

Perhaps the greatest outcome thus far is that Family Circle is ensuring students are building trusting relationships with at least one adult in the school who knows them well and can support them.

In Fall 2021, a full 15% of students surveyed felt that their teachers didn’t know them, or only knew them a little. Now, that percentage has dropped to 5%, and around a quarter of students surveyed say their teacher knows them “really well.”


This year, in an effort to have a new collective experience, Lab hosted its first ever Family Circle Olympics with a month’s worth of fun and competitive challenges for students.

“It was a really powerful opportunity for Katrina and me to help create some continuity across the Family Circles,” said Hannah. “We love that Family Circle can be autonomous and fill a variety of needs, and this was a nice way for everyone to have something in common.”

As Lab continues its Crew Initiative journey, Katrina says they are committed to bringing the spirit of Crew — the social-emotional development, joy and inclusion fostered in Family Circle — into everything they do.


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