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Virtual Crew: Feeling Together Even When We’re Far Apart

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    EL Education

Now more than ever, students need a sense that we—students, teachers, families, and communities—can support each other emotionally, thrive academically, and contribute to making the work a better place, even when we’re doing school from home. That’s what Crew is all about. Crew is a culture of helping each other to succeed and belong. It is also a structure, similar to advisory, in which small groups of students meet daily with a Crew leader to build healthy relationships and support one another socially and academically.

A student at Elgin Math and Science Academy in Illinois shares his Connection Card for an Aldi cashier, inspired by EL Education’s Better World Day, during Community Crew.

EL Education schools across the country are doing Crew in all sorts of ingenious ways to keep students connected and learning purposefully while they shelter in place. Palouse Prairie Charter School in Moscow, Idaho, for example, holds a weekly virtual Community Circle for all middle school students. On April 9th, when a spectacular super moon rose over the prairie, the school celebrated The Natural World Design principle and National Poetry Month by hosting an evening virtual Crew circle that began with this reading. Students were challenged to write their own poems connecting to the reading and to share them in the comments on the school’s YouTube channel. Morgan’s poem, which captures the ups and downs of social distancing so well, touched our hearts:

“Like the moon I am always waxing and waning. 

There will be times when I am just a sliver of light

and others where I am full and bright”

Megan, Student at Palouse Prairie Charter School

Students also shared “spotlights” for their crewmates, teachers, friends, and family, including birthday greetings and appreciations. 

Many teachers across our network meet virtually with their own Crews of 10-15 students every day for 30-45 minutes. EL Education has created a Virtual Crew collection of resources to help teachers plan virtual Crew lessons and activities.

Community Crew meetings through Facebook or Instagram Live create opportunities for school leaders and teachers to maintain connection with the whole school community to celebrate students’ achievements, and just to have fun in the virtual company of their classmates. Casco Bay High School in Portland, Maine hosts a lively weekly virtual Crew meeting on Prezi, including this one where they share results of a student survey on remote learning and recognitions for students’ habits of work. They also continue to celebrate high school seniors who are movin’ on up to college

Community Crew at Inspire Academy, a pre-k–8 school in Muncie, Indiana features lots of lively dance-along music.  Students and teachers are invited to share TicToc videos of their special moves. This week principal Leslie Draper has challenged students to record themselves singing the school song. A teacher will splice all the recordings together to create a montage for next week’s meeting. “Community Crew allows teachers to see their students and know they are ok,” says Draper. “ I want everyone to feel seen and that they are a valued part of the community.  The dancing helps us all feel lighter, which we really need right now.”

Elgin Math and Science Academy (EMSA) in Chicago posts their weekly Community Crew meetings on their website. For the “appreciations” portion of Community Crew, when students chime in to thank their teachers, they’ve even developed some virtual crew norms, including giving a thumbs up to show that they are ready to speak and tugging on an ear to signal to a student who is speaking but can’t be heard because  the mic is off. Like other schools, EMSA is participating virtually in EL Education’s Better World Day 2020 to create thank you videos, public art, letters, and cards of appreciation for those who are demonstrating courage and kindness by helping others in this difficult time. 

Principal Laina Cox, at Capital City Charter School in Washington, DC, begins each virtual school week with Catch the Tea with Principal Cox on Instagram Live.  The show features “hallways hellos” and shoutouts to students and teachers who are demonstrating the school’s habits of character by helping out at home and learning deeply in the virtual classroom.

At Amana Academy in Alpharetta, Georgia students participated in Crew spirit week by sharing videos and selfies of themselves in pajamas, dressed up as an essential worker, wearing school uniforms (that have been in the closet for a while), or in a “twin costume” with a remote friend. 

In schools where many students don’t have internet, Crew can even be done by phone or letter, with students and Crew leaders sending supportive messages to each other via text or cards. At Polaris Charter Academy in a close-knit neighborhood of Chicago, students have made creative, individualized signs proclaiming “We Are Crew” to post in their windows at home.

However you’re doing Crew—as a community, online or by phone—remember these words of wisdom from EL Education’s Crew leader Ron Berger: “Crew is your family. They make sure you stay on track as a scholar and as a person.” If you’re feeling alone at home, you count on your Crew to get you through.