When she began teaching fourth grade a decade ago, Erin Campanella started “Campy’s Crew” as a way to welcome students and establish a cohesive class community. In the first of our Deeper Dive series with RCDS teachers, learn about the special role fourth graders hold in the Lower School and what it’s like to be a part of Campy’s Crew.
Deeper Dive: Q&A with Erin Campanella
What is Campy’s Crew and how did it start?
Campy’s Crew started my first year of teaching fourth grade, which was 10 years ago. I wanted to bring the class together and for everyone to feel really welcome. From the get-go, the idea was for students to realize they are not just in the fourth-grade class C, they are part of a crew, Campy’s Crew. It was a good way to have the kids feel included right from the start.
What are fourth graders like at this age, and why is it important to have a strong sense of belonging?
Fourth graders typically come in at age nine and they leave at 10. It’s an interesting age because typically, a nine-year-old has some anxieties and worries. Once they hit 10, I always see this burst of confidence. They’re closer to being fifth graders, they are closer to Upper School. In fourth grade, they are also leaders of the Lower School. They have to own that and realize that they are the ones who set the example for younger students. Campy’s Crew helps them step into that role.
What does Campy’s Crew involve?
We do a lot. I start by writing each student a letter welcoming them to Campy’s Crew to let them know how important they are to me as a teacher and to each other. We do Pay It Forward projects throughout the year, where we pick a task as a class. It could be holding the door for other students, or writing a kind letter to a former teacher, but the idea is to learn what it means to pay it forward. We literally go through that by illustrating on the board when you do something for someone, and they do something for someone else, how that can multiply. There’s also a one-on-one component to it.
We have 3 x 5 notebooks, and every child has one. On Friday afternoons, after they’ve gone home, I’ll write a note to each student about something specific they did during the week that stood out in my mind. It goes in their mailbox and on Monday morning, they open their notebook and read it. The goal is to put a smile on their face on Monday morning when they might be a little sleepy or sluggish. In a class of 15 or 16 students, they might not think I’m noticing all the good they’re doing. The notebook and messages are a reassurance, that yes, I am.
All of the activities you describe are done in a very tangible and tactile way. Why is that important for kids this age?
Fourth graders have to experience it and feel it. Instead of being told, “This is who we are,” they have to actually act like it. There’s another common activity we do in the beginning of the year. I cut up a big poster board into random shapes with however many students in the class, including myself. After each student decorates their piece with their name, interests, and hobbies, we put it all together as a puzzle. So now it’s one big piece of poster board and everyone’s piece is involved. Everyone is different, but we’re all one group together.
How does all the work you put into developing a cohesive group and individualized student-teacher relationship impact teaching and learning overall?
When I was a part-time teacher many years ago, I attended a workshop where the takeaway was, “The more kids get to really know one another, the less likely they are to be unkind.” I thought about that and realized, “OK, that’s very interesting.” My first year as a full-time teacher, I spent the first week of school focusing on all kinds of team building. And I discovered when that is in place, when students know one another and realize they don’t have to be best friends, but they do have to respect one another, everything else falls into place.
It’s proven to work and be true the last 10 years. They’re kids, and they’re going to make mistakes, but all of this community building flows into academics. When students are in an environment where everyone is treating one another with kindness and respect, learning is always way more productive.
Since you’ve been doing this for 10 years, there must be a lot of RCDS students and alumni who identify with Campy’s Crew.
I pass seventh and eighth graders all the time who ask, “How’s Campy’s Crew?” or they’ll see the whole class in the hallways and say, “Hey Campy’s Crew.” When fifth graders come back to visit, it means a lot to the current fourth graders. They see they are part of the something bigger. Campy’s Crew is not just the 16 I have now, they all share this same experience.
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