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Expeditionary Learning Middle School's Crew Spirit Featured in Syracuse Media

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    Sarah Norris

Expeditionary Learning Middle School's (ELMS) in Syracuse was recently featured on The article touched on many aspects of the EL Education model, but zeroed in on the power of Crew to transform students' experience of school and outlook on life. 

Here’s an excerpt: 

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- The end-of-day energy is pulsing through the lunchroom at Expeditionary Learning Middle School in Syracuse, but a group of boys huddles around G.G.

Before the boys can leave, they need to speak an affirmation or apology to one of their peers, says G.G., a school counselor whose nickname is short for Brian Gibbs-Griffith.

One kid apologizes to another for losing his gym-class shirt. Then the room gets somber, quiet.
“I want to apologize to you for letting you down,” one student says to G.G.

Another turns to a friend: “I want to affirm you. Since we first found out our grades dropped, you’ve been working extra hard.”

“I apologize for dropping my grades that low,” a third boy says to G.G. “That’s not like me.”
“You didn’t let me down. You let yourself down,” G.G. says. “You think I can’t relate to grades being down? That’s my story. Who here has made a mistake? Raise your hand.”
The hands go up around the room.

“We can accept apologies because we can empathize - because we have all made mistakes,” G.G. says, using this as an opportunity to tie the discussion to the December theme at ELMS: empathy and caring. The loudspeaker blares. It’s dismissal time, but the boys stay in a circle around G.G.

“This is a life skill,” he tells them. “Relationships are maintained because people have acceptance or forgiveness. This is a beautiful thing.”

This is how every child ends their school day every day at ELMS -- with a small group of students, or “crew” gathering around a leader.

“Crew” is a class, split up by gender, dedicated to learning character, bonding and getting to know one adult in the building.

Crews are one of many things that makes ELMS different from other middle schools. The “expeditionary learning” model emphasizes hands-on experiences, real-world projects and students’ own questions about the world, all to make kids feel engaged with academics.

It’s a model that has been working at the middle school of just more than 200 students for nine years now. ELMS students do better on state tests and have better attendance than their peers in other city schools.

The adventurous approach to learning helps, but teachers, parents, students and administrators say they believe that it’s crew that makes ELMS students feel accountable for their school work.

“I’m not doing nothin’ if I don’t feel connected, if I don’t feel like there are people who care about me, if I don’t have people who are going to treat me with love and respect at the end of the day,” said Gibbs-Griffith.

Elam We Are Crew

A sign in the hall at the Expeditionary Learning Middle School (ELMS) in Syracuse, December 16, 2016. Michael Greenlar |

Read the full story here