What a CREW! New friends, improved behavior, team building results of middle school program

By on December 29, 2015


Knowing that the middle school years are a jumble of academic and social challenges, officials at Cocalico Middle School launched a program three years ago to provide students with extra guidance and maybe a few new friends.

Photo courtesy of Danielle Corrao/Cocalico Middle School. Crew students (from left) Corinne Musser, Caitlin Lesher, Jane Register (facing away from the camera), and Maddie Buscavage plan for an upcoming fundraiser.

Photo courtesy of Danielle Corrao/Cocalico Middle School.
Crew students (from left) Corinne Musser, Caitlin Lesher, Jane Register (facing away from the camera), and Maddie Buscavage plan for an upcoming fundraiser.

The program, called CREW, is now in its fourth year.

Administrators credit it with reducing the number of students referred to the office for behavioral problems. Students say it’s helped them make new connections in a school of 662.

In sixth grade, each student is randomly assigned a CREW advisor. He or she is mixed into an existing group of seventh and eighth graders, and that core team stays together throughout their middle school years.

Each crew numbers about 15 students and meets Wednesday mornings for 30 minutes. There’s a yearly theme &tstr; this year, its goal setting &tstr; and each week students do service projects or team-building activities related to it.

Because of its small size and non-academic focus, students have an opportunity to raise questions and engage with each other that’s not common during class.

“We address the kind of social and emotional components that aren’t necessarily taught in middle school,” says Stacey Sola, the guidance counselor tasked with forming the advisory program.

Sola notes that middle schoolers face rapid physical and emotional growth, and they might need help navigating that.

“The whole idea is that every kid has an adult who really knows them,” says Principal Stephen Melnyk.

An advisory program like CREW was recommended by the Association for Middle Level Education “years ago,” Melnyk says. The association considered it a core component in schools that address adolescent needs.

The weekly opportunity to spend time together creates a bond that makes students feel safe about expressing their emotions, working within a group and to identify with others they might not otherwise have known.

In end-of-year surveys, Sola says students consistently give the best feedback for CREW’s team-building exercises. Ninety percent of parents agreed that CREW instilled a sense of community at the school.

Melnyk says the program has also contributed to a 63 percent dip in referrals, detentions and suspensions since 2012-13.

The advisory concept isn’t new, says Sola.

But few schools in Lancaster County have similar programs.

Cocalico officials initially traveled to schools in York and Montgomery County to see how it might work. They then crafted their own version to address their student population and goals.

“This concept has always been around. It’s just a matter of determining how it can fit in your school day,” says Sola. “We had to sell it to everyone because it was a change for everyone.”

After more than three years, it’s just a normal part of the week.

Last week, teachers Danielle Corrao and Jessica Townsley combined crews to plan for a miniTHON fundraiser. They hope to raise $4,000 to benefit pediatric cancer charities by the time the event rolls around in February.

They’ll be selling cake pops and lollipops with superhero capes to match the miniTHON theme.

“The students are learning to set long-term goals and work together to meet them while also helping those in need,” says Corrao.

Highlights for eighth grader Erin Bock include yearly balloon races that require teamwork and strategy and the service component. Her crew is also fundraising for the miniTHON.

Bock was assigned to special education teacher Hollie Kemper as a sixth grader.

“I would have never gotten the chance to really meet her if she wasn’t my advisor,” says Bock. “Now, it’s so easy to talk to her.”

The program has also let teachers know students better, Sola says. In some cases, teachers have reached out to the guidance staff because the regular interaction “bring some issues to the surface.”

That means Sola is better positioned to help those students.

Ideally, the students are also revealing meaningful things about themselves to their crewmates.

One of the year’s first exercises was meant to help them feel more confident and more self aware among a group of peers. They were asked to identify unique strengths and share them.

“We wanted to know: What can you teach us that you think no one else in this crew can do?” explains Sola, who leads her own crew. “They really need this opportunity to share thoughts and feelings in a safe environment.”

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