This fall, the online school year kicked off over Zoom. With little fanfare, a new program was added to IMSA students’ schedules. Titan Crew offers the opportunity to meet those in other classes and check-in with a teacher twice a week. But where did it come from, and why was it created? I spoke to some people involved in its formation to find out.
Dr. Comfort Akwaji-Anderson, one of the architects of Titan Crew, recently replaced Dr. Robert Hernandez as principal of IMSA. Most administrators who I spoke with regarding the program directed me to her. According to Dr. Akwaji-Anderson, Titan Crew was created to address a variety of needs, as determined from data collected from students. This data indicated that IMSA students wished to have more personal relationships with their teachers. She believes that if IMSA students have closer relationships with faculty, they will perform better. Dr. Akwaji-Anderson described this as “getting to know the whole student.”
The three goals of Titan Crew, as stated by Dr. Akwaji-Anderson, are to increase connection between students and faculty, to understand students’ aspirations for life after high school, and to increase camaraderie between grade levels. She believes this will build the IMSA community through connection, and help to create a real sense of belonging. Dr. Akwaji-Anderson says,“research indicates that if students feel like their faculty and teachers know who they are, they do better…we have to focus on who you are, which informs and impacts how you learn.”
Titan Crew, then, is part of a larger effort to continuously improve IMSA’s academics, not a program to mitigate the challenges of distance learning, as some might assume. In reality, this was only one of the factors that led to Titan Crew’s creation. The foundation of the program was laid even before the school closure, as early as January 2020.
To understand more about the data collection, I spoke with Robert Kuhl. Kuhl is an IMSA alum from the class of 1989 and the founder of Kuhl Learning, an educational review service. On November 14th and 15th, 2019, he and Melissa Agudelo visited IMSA to conduct a review at Dr. Torres’ request, where they spoke to various members of the IMSA community and collected data from surveys and feedback.
Kuhl bases his reviews of schools around relationships. The six main relationships in a school, he proposes, are those between students and other students, students and faculty, faculty and faculty, schools and communities, schools and homes, and schoolwork and jobs. They found that IMSA adequately and rigorously challenges students, provides an excellent residential experience, and stimulates inquiry and collaboration. They found room for improvement in trust and communication between students, teachers, and administration, as well as addressing feelings of discrimination from students of diverse backgrounds.
In my interview with Kuhl, he reiterated the issues with trust and discrimination at IMSA and emphasized community and close relationships, as Dr. Akwaji-Anderson did. The Titan Crew program functions similarly to homeroom or advisory in an ordinary public school, but with its own IMSA flair. He described the way Titan Crew might be used to find the “core” of IMSA: its mission and values. Students can express their beliefs and help IMSA stay true to its core, resulting in a stronger overall institution. Allowing an open line of communication between different parts of IMSA can resolve issues of trust and discrimination and encourage openness. Robert Kuhl commented that “I think the more we can honestly reflect on who we are and who we want to become, as individuals and as a community, the better. When we have that honest, humble, open space for dialogue, I think great things can happen.”
Titan Crew is just one of the responses to Robert Kuhl’s review of IMSA and data collected. With efforts like this, members of the IMSA community can be confident in the constant self-improvement and strength that it takes to remain a leading educational institution.