First Day in NYC: 'It's not going to be like James and the Giant Peach!'


“We are now about to visit the most marvelous places and see the most wonderful things!” ― Roald Dahl, James and the Giant Peach

I have started my research journey by visiting a program that has inspired me in so many ways, The Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. They work with districts, schools and after-school programs to build students’ social and emotional skills and create caring, respectful classrooms and schools. Today, they were delivering CREW training to after school program leaders. CREW is a social and emotional learning curriculum that is designed especially for after school clubs and the acronym stands for:





The training helped the leaders understand how to create the right environment to ensure that their club embodies these four values. The after school program leaders who attended the training were particularly inspiring, as they discussed the different ways that they create this atmosphere at their club. I particularly enjoyed hearing about how some leaders challenged their clubs to create their own t-shirts, that you can see modelled by the after school club leaders in the photo.

My learning throughout the day breaks down into 6 main points: Practical implementation, being challenged, marvellous and wonderful experiences, the power of sticking to it, overwhelming rewards, reassurance in the familiar and the wonder of the unknown.

Practical Implementation

Another part of the training that I enjoyed was the practical element, we got to participate in games and activities that are part of the CREW curriculum, this really helped me to understand how a CREW session would feel.

The game we started with was 'mingle and huddles', we walked around the room, mingling, until we were told to huddle with a certain amount of people. Once we were in a huddle we were given a question that each of us in the huddle had to answer.

Being Challenged

One of the questions we were asked was 'What is a challenge you have overcome?' This question seemed quite pertinent to me as I reflected back on arriving in New York the night before. I had spent 8 hours on the plane brimming with excitement about visiting the most marvellous of places and seeing the most wonderful things. However, when I stepped off the plane, I quickly realised that arriving into a new country isn't always marvellous to begin with. I had no idea what I was doing, and despite being able to speak the language and read the signs, I found myself hot, with too much luggage, dithering about which subway to take and which direction to go until I felt exhausted and rather hopeless.

Marvellous and Wonderful Experiences

However, after finding the right person to ask and taking two air conditioned subways, I cooled down and made it to my subway stop. From there, someone who I loved more than anyone last night, offered to carry my suitcase up the steps and I made it triumphantly to my hostel. Once I was in the hostel, I could get a good nights sleep, ready for the day learning about CREW that lay ahead. Now I really did feel like I was 'about to visit the most marvelous places and see the most wonderful things!'

The Power of Sticking to it

This process of overcoming challenge featured throughout the training today, as the program leaders were discussing how to manage difficult situations in a club setting. Naturally, some of the leaders were worried about starting their club and creating the right group dynamic. This worry was helpfully abated by one of the veteran club leaders who informed the group that starting a club is not going to be like James and the Giant Peach, where a group of very different insects all work well together immediately. However, the more you stick at it, the more you follow the structure and have fun, you will get there eventually.

This resonated with me, firstly because I love Roald Dahl, but secondly because anyone who works with young people knows that it is a lot to expect that everyone will get on and take to a program marvellously from the beginning. Instead it is often a lot of hard work and patience, but like the marvellous feeling I had when I arrived at my hostel, the reward at the end is worth it.

Overwhelming Rewards

Today was even more rewarding for me because I was overwhelmed to be given a host of materials that were being given out to the other participants, such as a soft toy globe that can be used as a 'talking piece', meaning only the person holding the 'talking piece' can talk during CREW sessions. This stops the young participants from talking over each other. I was also given a circle of muslin, to be used as a 'center piece', something that is placed in the middle of the group, as a focal point to be decorated by the young participants. It was great to hear all the facilitators and trainee's talk so passionately about how they had implemented these materials in their sessions. Here is a 'center piece' that was designed by one of last year's CREW clubs:

Reassurance in the Familiar

There were many things about the training that were familiar for me and it was good to hear some of the methods I have used previously at The Story Project being advocated. For example, at the start of the training we went around the circle discussing the origin and the significance of our names. This is something that I did with a group in Bermondsey and the effects were similar. Simply talking about names, enables people to share and reflect a lot about their identity. Seeing this activity in action as a participant, rather than a facilitator, really made me appreciate it's value.

Wonder of the Unknown

“There are a whole lot of things in this world of ours you haven't even started wondering about yet.” ― Roald Dahl, James and the Giant Peach

As well as viewing familiar material through a new lens, the training also introduced me to lots of new concepts. In fact I have a binder full of activities and curriculum to review. I am also looking forward to visiting The Morningside Center again next week, where I will be learning more about how they integrate social and emotional learning into academic work through the 4Rs programme. I have a lot of questions that I want to discuss, but I am also going to go in with an open mind as I am sure there is a lot to learn that I can't even begin to wonder about yet!

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