My school is an Expeditionary Learning school, which is an outgrowth of the Outward Bound movement started by Kurt Hahn. One of the many things we do differently from other schools is a structure called Crew. I have a group of 13 6th grade boys in my Crew. We meet in the mornings for an hour before school and we work on character building, self-reflection, building relationships, team-building through challenge, goal-setting, and life skills. We also play games and have fun and celebrate. We talk and share a lot, and support each other through challenges. We do community service, and the kids choose what they want to work on and whom they want to help.
I will have this Crew for their entire middle school career if I stay at SBC. I graduated my 8th graders last year and sent them off to high school–most of them come back to see me regularly, which speaks to the quality of relationships you can build.
On Fridays our school dismisses 2 hours and 45 minutes early so the teachers can have professional development. We have three “academic” Fridays per month where the kids go to their core content classes in the morning, and one “Crew” Friday per month, where the entire 4 hours is spent with their Crew Leader. Last Friday we had a “Crew” Friday, and my kids decided to elect a Crew President and Counselors.
I gave a little guidance, but mostly stayed out of the process. They set term limits (one trimester max) and developed the campaigning and voting process. They constructed a town hall space and gave each candidate for office space to speak and answer questions. There were campaign signs and there was flag-waving. I was greatly amused that everyone was fair and gentle until the final candidate, who produced a negative attack-ad slide show. It was not vicious, and its claims were obviously tongue-in-cheek, and it garnered so many laughs that the candidate won by a single vote.
The kids asked me to draw up official contracts based on the roles and responsibilities they’d created for each officer. I did so, and there was a solemn signing ceremony. Even the kids who seemed a bit indifferent to the process at first were fully engaged by the end. We had a pizza party to celebrate the election.
In Humanities class, the kids are learning about governance and how organizations function and how individuals work inside of organizations to create change. They’ve been studying the structure of the Federal Government and the election process. I don’t have my Crew kids in class because I teach the 7th and 8th graders, but I can see how deeply they’ve thought about their learning through this activity. The next part of our academic Expedition into governance will be a brief case study of voting rights, and how they’ve evolved in America. Then the kids will become journalists and investigators and they will do interviews and explore how our school is structured, how it functions, and how change happens at SBC. Our goal was for them to lay the foundation for a student government and to create a student Bill of Rights out of this experience. They’re already taking that initiative.