SHARPSVILLE — A normal year would involve introducing new kids to their classrooms and serving as an example for younger students, but this year had the added roles of teaching underclassmen how to wear masks and social distance — all while promoting the Blue Devil Way.
These may be some of the roles normally fulfilled by a teacher, but at Sharpsville Area Elementary School, these are tasks handled by the Blue Crew, a team of fifth-graders like Madelyn Presley. Only 10 years old, Presley said she enjoys being able to help her classmates, despite being only a few years older.
“You have to have good grades and you have to be really nice,” Madelyn said of the crew membership requirements.
Fellow student and Blue Crew member Aaron Burk said he also enjoyed being able to help his fellow students, particularly helping new students feel welcome on their first day at Sharpsville.
“We’ll greet them, and we’ll usually talk to them all the way to their classroom to get to know them and get them into the swing of things,” Aaron said.
Now in its third year, the Blue Crew was created by the school’s Lead Team as a way to help promote school-wide positive behavior, guidance counselor and Lead Team member Terri Hamilton said.
This involves participating in a three-day long “Kinder-camp” during the summer, where crew members help introduce future kindergartners to life as a Sharpsville student. The Blue Crew also organizes an assembly at the beginning of the year, a mid-year “blowout” celebration, and an end-of-the-year blowout, Hamilton said.
Other activities for the Blue Crew throughout the year include preparing bags of Sharpsville schools-themed gear for new students, planning fundraisers for the blowouts, helping teachers with activities, planning events or serving as someone that other students can come to for assistance, Hamilton said.
“I know our kids in kindergarten or first grade, they see that Blue Crew shirt and they know what that means, Hamilton said.
To join, applicants must meet positive behavior and grade requirements, and maintain those requirements even after acceptance, elementary Principal Jon Fry said.
Aside from Kinder-camp, the Blue Crew members are at the elementary school’s doors for the entire first week, escorting kindergartners to their classes. This can be especially helpful not only for teaching young kids to navigate the large elementary building, but also helps provide a feeling of safety and caring for children who are still adjusting to being at school and away from their parents, Fry said.
“The kids know the Blue Crew are fifth-graders and they’re kids too, so when you see a new kid swallowing those tears from saying ‘goodbye’ to mom and they’re holding hands with a Blue Crew member, it’s an awesome thing to see,” Fry said.
But the Blue Crew isn’t just known within the school district; the students’ efforts have received statewide recognition.
The Blue Crew was invited by the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network to make a presentation at PaTTAN’s Implementer’s Forum conference, where the crew could share how the students’ voices were being heard and how those voices were incorporated into the school’s operations, Fry said.
Originally, the Implementers’ Forum was going to be held last spring toward the end of the school year in Hershey. It was planned for the Blue Crew to make the presentation in person and take a school bus to Hershey. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic postponed those plans, Fry said.
The Blue Crew still had its time in the spotlight though, as the Implementer’s Forum was changed to a virtual format instead of the original in-person conference, Fry said.
To help share what the Blue Crew does, music teacher and Lead Team member Jacob Moon took videos of the Blue Crew’s activities, both before and after the pandemic, as well as interviews of Sharpsville students, and edited the footage into a video.
Even though the video was shared as part of a virtual conference, Moon said being able to see the student-led activities in action helped bring some energy and enthusiasm to the Zoom meeting, with other adults leaving comments before the video even ended.
“One comment that popped up a few times was to the effect of, ‘It’s all about the kids,’ and that was exactly what we wanted to communicate,” Moon said.
When the video was shown for the Implementer’s Forum on Nov. 13, the students were all invited down for a special lunch, where Fry told the students about the conference and the recognition the crew was receiving.
At first the students didn’t know what they were called down for, but Presley said she and the others were excited when they found out about the conference and the video.
“It was kinda cool, there were a lot of people from all over the state who saw it,” she said.
The pandemic changed things for the Blue Crew in other ways.
Normally the fourth-graders who will become future Blue Crew members are announced at the end of the school year and receive their “Blue Crew” T-shirts during the end-of-the-year blowout, Moon said.
Since Mercer County schools shifted to remote learning for the end of the 2019-20 school year, the new Blue Crew members were announced virtually. A video was also created that filmed clips of the previous crew members tossing Blue Crew shirts off-screen, with the footage edited to make it appear that the new members were catching the shirts, Moon said.
Jared Bissell, a sixth -grader and former Blue Crew member, said the pandemic limited what activities the crew would normally have done at the end of the school year, but the video to promote the next round of crew members served to both help pass the torch while providing a first for the crew’s activities.
“That was really fun, and it made it interesting to do for the first time,” Bissell said.
The start of the new school year and the return to in-person instruction gave the Blue Crew an opportunity to return to some normal activities while adapting to the new pandemic guidelines, Moon said.
The annual back-to-school assembly was held outdoors to allow for social distancing, although the Blue Crew still had a chance to get the younger students acclimated to being back to school.
The students also made a video to help explain some of the pandemic guidelines, keeping the video educational but providing some humor for the students. Aaron said it made everyone laugh out loud.
“That made everybody feel good, and it gave them something to laugh at during these trying times,” Aaron said.
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