CASA is located in Corona, Queens, and serves 767 students in grades 6 – 8. 96% of students identify as Hispanic, 22% are English-language learners, and 21% qualify for special education services.
In 2015, the school community experienced a serious trauma, with effects that rippled throughout the school. Students–particularly those joining the school as 6th graders, which is already a challenging transition for most students—were clearly struggling with the social-emotional impact of the trauma, and teachers became concerned.
Founding principal Beth Hert’s mantra to teachers has always been “Make connections with children,” and it was becoming clear that she and her teachers needed to rethink how they were doing that to ensure that all students felt good about themselves and fully supported.
Beth visited MELS, an NYC Outward Bound School in Forest Hills and during her visit, got to see Crew, our signature advisory structure, in action.
“This is it,” she said, “This is how we will make sure every child is connected to an adult in our building.”
She spoke with her staff at length about how Crew could transform their school, and with the teachers’ support, she contacted NYC Outward Bound Schools last spring about implementing Crew. Teachers volunteered to be Crew leaders and spent extra time with Christian Narvaez, our Director of Character, Community & Culture, knowing that investing now would lead to a huge payoff for their students later.
“At first we were really nervous about the workload,” one teacher admitted, “But we were more supported [by NYC Outward Bound Schools] than we realized we were going to be.”
Beth adds, “the [volunteer Crew leaders] who are leading the charge . . . are really excited and passionate about doing this work, and I see them growing as leaders in the school.”
After a full semester of careful, thoughtful, and deliberate planning, led by Christian and the volunteer Crew leaders, the school was ready to launch Crew in September of 2018.
Now, all 6th graders at CASA are part of a Crew of 15 or fewer students, led by one adult Crew Leader. “Our goal is to make sure that each student in our school has somebody looking out for them and advocating for them,” said one Crew Leader.
Beth added, “[The Crew Leader] is the person that’s responsible for the social-emotional support of this child. This is the front line of lateness, this is the front line of absenteeism, this is the front line of academics.” (CASA is piloting Crew with this year’s 6th grade but plans to launch it in 7th and 8th grade over the next two years.)
Teachers are already starting to see results: incident reports and bullying have both decreased. Plus, Crew Leaders are feeling more connected to their Crew members, as well as their Crew members’ families.
As for the students themselves, they’re excited about Crew. “[Crew] helps you express your feelings . . . Crew is a safe place,” said one 6th grader. “We have a bond,” said another, “we have a really strong relationship, and we trust each other.”
And they’re learning to take responsibility for each other, which is helping to create a safer environment. As one student states, “It feels like you have someone’s trust on your hands, and you have to help them.”