Link Crew helps students adjust to new school

August 31, 2011|By MARIE GILBERT |
  • Students do the wave as a team exercise in the Link Crew program at South Hagerstown High School.
By Yvette May/Staff Photographer

Jennifer Harman remembers the uneasy feeling of being a freshman at South Hagerstown High School.

The building seemed enormous, people where strangers and her course load was intimidating.

But the transition from eighth grade to ninth was made easier, she said, thanks to an upperclassman who helped her feel more comfortable in her surroundings.

Her mentor was part of a nationally recognized program called Link Crew — an initiative that helps younger students adjust to their new schools.

Have a question about a particular class? Interested in more information on a club or extracurricular activity?  Need some study tips?

A member of Link Crew can help.

“It’s like having a big brother or sister to turn to,” Harman said. “When I was a freshman, I really benefitted from the program.”

Now, Harman, 15, wants to lend a hand to a new group of incoming freshmen who are facing the same challenges.

On a recent summer morning, the South High junior joined about 80 classmates for a training session in the school gymnasium.

At first, it could have been mistaken for a pep rally. The students who filled the bleachers waved their arms, screamed and did cheers.

It was all in preparation for a freshman orientation, during which juniors and seniors use activities to promote connection.

Each of the Link Crew members — or leaders, as they are known — was chosen through an interview process, said Amy Warrenfeltz, student intervention specialist at South High.

Only juniors and seniors are eligible to apply “and this year we had to turn students away,” she said. “A lot of kids beg us to be part of the program. It’s become a big honor to be selected.”

Warrenfeltz said leaders have to be eligible academically, “but we also want to select students who can connect with individuals with a wide range of interests and backgrounds.”

Link Crew has been in place in Washington County schools for five years, said Warrenfeltz, who oversees the program at South with fellow teacher Barbara Cosner. South High has participated for four years.

A similar program called Where Everybody Belongs or WEB is offered at the middle school level, where eighth-graders are paired with incoming sixth-graders.

Warrenfeltz said the program kicks off prior to the opening of school with a high-energy freshman orientation that includes activities and school tours and continues throughout the year with social events with Link leaders.

About five students are assigned or linked to each leader, she said.

“We’ve really had good results,” Warrenfeltz said. “The leaders were once freshmen, so they understand the questions and confusion that accompany that first year of high school.”

Many students have become part of the program because they remember how much it helped them when they were entering high school, she said.

“I remember how scary it was,” Harman admitted. “I remember walking around the building and thinking how big it was. But during orientation, my Link leader gave me a tour and suggested shortcuts from one classroom to another. And that helped a lot.”

An 18-year-old senior at South High, Katharina Stout is in her first year as a Link leader. She became involved, she said, because she likes helping other people.

“I remember being scared to ask for help,” she said. “When you’ve been in the same shoes as someone, you understand. I think I can really help other kids make the adjustment.”

This is the second year that senior Maranatha Teferi, 17, has been a Link Crew leader.

“It’s really satisfying to know you’re helping others,” Teferi said. “As a freshman, I think it’s really reassuring to know you have an upperclassman to turn to whenever you have a problem.”

Kevin Cook-Smith, 16, said this is his first year with the Link program.

The senior said he enjoyed the training activities, which “make me feel more confident about my responsibilities.”

He also was looking forward to helping the freshmen students with whom he will be linked.

“I think I can help make their transition a lot easier,” he said.

Senior Jordan Dickens, 16, said he enjoyed being part of the Link Crew program last year and anticipates another rewarding year.

“It was really fun,” he said. “But it also helped me with my leadership skills. And that definitely helps on your college resume.”

Dickens said he didn’t see a lot of freshmen last year who were struggling.

“But I think it made them feel comfortable knowing they had someone to turn to if they had a question,” he said.

Dickens said he thinks the activities that surround freshman orientation also help students acclimate to a bigger school.

“Little things like learning where your classes are and how to get there are really important to a freshman,” he said. “Plus, it helps them realize that high school is fun.”

What every freshman should know

The following tips were provided by South Hagerstown High School for its students. The teachers stressed that these are not suggestions implemented by all Washington County schools.

  • 1. There will be drama. Do your best to not get involved.
  • 2. Respect your teachers and each other.
  • 3. Get involved in school activities and stay eligible.
  • 4. Ask questions if you don’t know something.
  • 5. Keep cellphones off from 8:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
  • 6. Be yourself. Don’t change for other people.
  • 7. Always put school first.
  • 8. Don’t start out on the wrong foot. This is your new beginning.
  • 9. Make new friends.
  • 10. Be on time for school and classes.

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