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Abraham Lincoln High School in Coney Island is one of the last large high schools in Brooklyn, serving nearly 2,000 high school students in grades 9-12. The school is very well-known for its specialized programs, which include Veterinary Science, Photography, Computer Science, Digital Media, Gilder Lehrman Honors Program for American History & Law, and Virtual Enterprise Business.

However, many students who attend the school are not in any of these specialized programs, either because they weren’t accepted into their preferred program or simply because Lincoln is the nearest high school to their home. These students are called “zoned students” (since most of them live in the school zone).

Recently, it became clear to Lincoln’s leadership team that the zoned students were not performing as well as students in specialized programs. Only 50% of zoned 9th graders were on track to earn the necessary credits for on-time graduation, over 25 percentage points behind the class average. (Data from 2017-2018 school year.)

“Why are they being left behind?” Assistant Principal Dave Robinson asked. “It’s not that they have lower test scores. What is it that’s missing?”

“It’s a sense of belonging to Lincoln,” he concluded.

Because the zoned 9th graders weren’t connected to a specialized program, Dave suspected they felt adrift and disconnected from the school: he feared that they didn’t have a teacher they trusted or a community of students with shared interests.

Studies show that a sense of belonging supports academic learning and perseverance in students, so Dave started thinking about how to foster that sense of belonging in his zoned 9th graders.

Dave had done some professional development at our Network Schools, MELS and Leaders, where he learned first-hand about our unique advisory structure, Crew. Although all 9th graders at Lincoln have a once-weekly advisory, he wondered if Crew, which includes a special focus on social-emotional learning for students, could help Lincoln’s zoned 9th graders feel more connected to their school and learning and ultimately be more successful students.

Last fall, NYC Outward Bound Schools started working with Lincoln to implement Crew for their zoned 9th graders, approximately 80 students. NYC Outward Bound Schools Coach Edi Juricic spent time with the three teachers who would serve as Crew Leaders–Jamie Darwish, Matt Afflitto, and Ciara Shields–to help them create compelling curricula for their crews, which, in addition to social-emotional learning skills, helped students with academic challenges and literacy.

9th grade Crew member Kiel said, “We speak more about our feelings, and ways to succeed through high school. There are daily check-ins, asking us how we feel.” This helped build trust among the Crews. As Zachariah added, “Whatever is said in the classroom, we keep in the classroom.”

Justin, another 9th grader added, “I’m grateful I had the opportunity this year. This class has given me a break to stop and think about stuff that concerns me. I think everybody should be given the chance to try it.”

In addition to helping students manage their emotions in a healthy way, Crew provides the 9th graders with structured time to review their homework, prepare for exams, and get help from their peers. For example, the students learned about the Memory Palace in Crew, a mnemonic device that helps students remember facts and figures. Ninth grader Naliyah shared “We use the Memory Palace to help learn vocabulary words” both in Crew and in her other classes.  And once a week, the students read together and discuss what they’ve read as a group, helping with reading comprehension and facilitating a love of reading.

“It’s definitely been a success story,” said Dave. “It teaches students skills that help them navigate everyday situations that might otherwise be challenging. It lifts all ships; even if it hasn’t touched all students [such as those who have advisory weekly rather than daily as part of their specialized programs], their ships still rise.”

Crew Leader Matt said, “A lot of [students] go the whole day without someone saying, ‘hello, how are you.’ And so I think [Crew is] valuable to students,” who crave that sense of belonging.

Crew Leader Ciara added, “It’s a pathway to see how we can help and assist them in moving forward. Crew is an entry point to get them on track.”

And the data support what the teachers are saying: credit accumulation, which is a predictor of graduation, has improved by 50%. And the zoned 9th graders are nearly on track with the rest of their classmates for credit accumulation this year.

While there are still challenges in implementing Crew at Lincoln (what’s the best way to include students who join halfway through the year? How do you reach more students?), overall, the pilot last year was a success. This fall, they expect 120 zoned 9th graders and are considering expanding their Crew program to serve all of them.

Special thanks to Lincoln’s principal Ari Hoogenboom, whose leadership and support of Crew in his school has made our partnership even more effective and successful. Learn more about Select Strategies: Crew or find out how to work with us at your school.

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