Inspired to make a difference


FJHS principal encourages others, leads by example

By Nancy Edwards

Like many children that dream of what they want to do when they grow up, Crystal Thorpe would play and pretend she was a teacher. 

That vision never faded.

As a “military kid,” Thorpe attended many different schools, from Fayetteville, North Carolina, to Ansbach, Germany. Yet she had great teachers. Teachers who supported, encouraged, inspired and challenged her.

Their belief in the future principal at Fishers Junior High School encouraged Thorpe to want to make a difference in the lives of students. Students with talents, special needs and low self-esteem. All students.

After receiving her degree, Thorpe, 43, began teaching English at Ben Davis High School. She met some students with potential that did not believe in themselves. She believed in them, and started a dance troupe for African-American girls to help improve their confidence level.

Thorpe understood these students; as a seventh-grader in North Carolina, she and her sister were verbally abused by other students on a constant basis.

“I was often called derogatory names to my face and had to endure racist jokes on the bus to school,” she said. “Once when my sister and I were in the pool, two boys came and taunted us, calling us names. The final straw was when they spit in the pool because we were in it. I remember going home and crying to my parents because I didn’t understand what I had done to make people treat me that way. It was all just based on the color of my skin.”

From her time at Ben Davis to her current role as principal for FJHS, Thorpe has continued to focus on the individual needs of students and her belief that everyone should be treated equally.

“It is important that we are all respected by and respectful of others,” she said.

One of Thorpe’s many initiatives for FJHS is the Sparkle Cheer Squad, in which students with special needs cheer along with the cheerleaders at a game.

“(The Cheer Squad) helps students who ordinarily would not participate in an activity participate and show their school spirit and pride,” Thorpe said. “It also helps the students who teach the special needs students learn from and appreciate students who are different from them. Hopefully, students learn that in all actuality, they are more similar than different.”

In addition, Thorpe has implemented curriculum for raising students’ achievement, including Read 180, Scholastic 44, Mindplay Virtual Reading Coach and the ALEKS math program.

As well, activities such as the Scrapbook and Card Club, the Energy Action Patrol Club, and the Gaming Club provide a variety for students with interests outside the mold of sports, music or academics.

“Crystal has a clear view and vision of the big picture and how all the component parts interact to make schools and a district a positive learning environment for each and every student,” Andrea McMurtry, wellness teacher at FJHS, said. “Crystal supports students at after school events. It is common to see her at evening events at least two to three nights a week.”

According to several teachers at FJHS, Thorpe has an equally vested interest in teachers as she does the students.

“The biggest testimony to Crystal is that none of her staff has any desire to work in another building,” FJHS Language Arts Department Chair, Tony Sturgeon, said. “She has such a friendly demeanor that no one hesitates to approach her and when the conversation is through, each person walks away knowing that his or her opinions and ideas were not only heard, but taken seriously.”

As well, teachers noted that Thorpe provides quality professional development opportunities and leads by example as a mentor.

“She routinely challenges our staff to implement best practice teaching strategies,”

FJHS Social Studies Department Chair Steve Heiniger, added.

These teachers, grateful and appreciated, nominated Thorpe for the Ford Freedom Unsung award, for which she was awarded in December at the Indiana Historical Society. Ford Freedom Unsung, provided through a grant from the Ford Motor Company, salutes individuals and organizations that have positively impacted communities with achievements that inform and inspire others.

“I was excited; it was awesome,” Thorpe said of receiving the award. “So many times we don’t get acknowledged for what we do in education. I truly believe that I’m very fortunate and in a great place. The wonderful staff members step up and make my job easy. It’s a very supportive community.”