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Alta’s Link Crew Helps Freshmen Feel Welcome, Succeed in High School

Oct 07, 2015 12:52PM ● Published by Bryan Scott

Crew students and ninth graders sitting together in the bleachers.

By Julie Slama

Alta freshman Emma Apsley was uncertain about high school this past summer before the school year began.

“I was nervous because I didn’t know too many people,” Emma said.  “I didn’t know my way around.”

A few days before school started, Emma got a phone message from her Link Crew leader saying she’d love for Emma to come to freshman orientation.

Link Crew is a national high school transition program that welcomes freshmen and makes them feel comfortable and adjusted throughout their first year of high school.  Through positive role modeling, upperclassmen act as mentors to guide freshmen through steps on how to be successful, from academics to social engagement during high school, said math teacher and Link Crew adviser Becky Waters.

“Research shows that if a student fails a class during freshman year, they won’t graduate,” Waters said.  “We want to make sure our freshmen are getting what they need to succeed.  It’s easier that these Link Crew students are helping since they are closer to the age group and remember the same things of being new to the school — maybe being scared, not knowing others, trying to find their classes.”

Waters said that students were divided into groups of about 14 students, each with two Link Crew mentors to guide them.  

“During freshman orientation, our goal was to break down walls,” said junior and Link Crew member Dallan Ashdown.  “We saw them connecting with us more than we connected with our teachers when we were new.”

At freshman orientation, Emma said her Link Crew gave them high fives as they went into an assembly.  They also talked to them about classes, teachers and what they could expect in high school.

“The school tour was really fun and they helped show us a way around that made the classes make sense.  They told us what was taught in each room, told us stories about when they started and showed us how to get organized,” she said.

Emma’s Link Crew group also played games, such as tossing around balls made out of tape.

“Each ball represented something in high school, life like, homework and friends.  It was really a life lesson, showing us that we needed to focus so we wouldn’t ‘drop the ball,’ but it was still lots of fun,” she said.

A game that Link Crew member Rebekah Minson, who is a junior, remembered leading was trying to remember one thing special about each member’s name.  

Rebekah, who has cochlear implants, remembered being afraid of coming to high school.

“I had a hard time judging who were my friends,” she said.  “I wasn’t sure who my real friends would be and those who would just be nice to me because of the implants.  But my real friends are the ones who care about you and treat you the same, not make bad choices that affect you.”

During the name game, junior Jamie Olsen used her initials, JLO, to help her freshmen remember her. To this day, she can hear people say, “There’s J. Lo.”

Jamie said she joined Link Crew to help freshmen feel welcome.

“I remember being scared when I came here,” she said. “I’m on the small side, so here I am small in a huge high school and it can be overwhelming.”

To prepare for the freshman orientation and year-long mentoring program, Link Crew members spent a week being trained by Alta advisers in the summer.  Their advisers had previously traveled to a California workshop  to learn how to bring the program to the school for the first year.

“It’s a big adjustment for freshmen to come here with different schedules, knowing grades matter, learning how to organize and get along, and there’s a lot of stuff unknown to them.  So we took the lessons and subjects that were provided, had our teachers review and choose from them, and now our Link Crew will deliver these during our advisory periods to help our freshmen succeed,” Waters said.

Link Crew members will teach and hold activities for the year around subjects ranging from study strategies and prioritizing to goal setting and teamwork.  They also will cover making assumptions and stereotyping.

“Freshmen need to learn how to juggle things from clubs to studying to sleeping.  I remember I was up to 3 a.m. a couple times as a freshman, and it doesn’t work in the long run,” Dallan said.

On Friday, Sept. 11, the Link Crew gave freshmen their first lesson.

“They came in and did activities like how to stay organized and how to work in teams.  I like it and it’s fun and helpful.  I’m becoming better friends with the people in my group,” Emma said, adding that she would like to be a Link Crew member when she’s an upperclassman. 

The Link Crew also will hold fun activities, such as a breakfast with freshman on Sept. 18, laser tag, lip sync, a movie night and others.

“I make sure I go into my freshman advisory class at least once each week just to say hi and be there.  I care about them succeeding and want to help as many people as possible,” said Dallan, who said he has learned leadership skills in guiding freshmen and setting an example for them to follow.

Alta High vice principal Kelli Miller said that already the Link Crew has shown a difference at the school, as freshman attendance is up to 90 percent during the first two weeks.

“Studies show that if attendance is up, our ninth graders are more likely to succeed in class, so these students making connections is making an immediate impact,” she said.

Junior Kenadee Stark remembered being incredibly shy when she was new to the school.  Although she is still shy, through Link Crew she has been able to meet new people, learn to work with her mentoring partner and has been able to stand in front of others to speak.  

Kenadee has also let her freshmen group know that, as a Link Crew member she is available to them.

“I tell them where I’ll be before school and during lunch and I keep a lookout for them,” she said.  “If they have a question I can answer, I want to help them because I care about them.  Becoming a Link Crew member has been the best decision in my high school career.” 

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