Being a high school freshman can be a nerve-racking experience.
The first few months of school can involve higher-level classes that are tough to get used to, and hallways and cafeterias are packed with older students who know all the shortcuts to get to class or lunch on time.
Occasionally, conflict among peers arises within the freshman class.
All the aforementioned scenarios can make high school seem like an unwelcoming place to freshmen, but at North Branch Area High School, there’s a student-led program that is focusing on making the transition from middle to high school easier for ninth graders.
This is the first year Link Crew has been organized at the school.
Link Crew is a mentorship program that pairs upperclassmen with small groups of freshmen.
The Link Crew leaders, usually juniors and seniors, show the freshmen the ropes when it comes to classes, the cafeteria, study habits, extracurricular activities and more.
Science teacher Michelle Wille and ADSIS counselor Stacy Redding, both in their second year at NBAHS, got Link Crew going this year.
Both previously worked at schools with the program, and felt it would be a valuable addition at NBAHS.
“When we came here, we saw a need for it, and we decided to give it a shot,” Wille said.
Finding students to be Link Crew leaders wasn’t difficult.
Wille and Redding received about 90 applications, which was almost double the amount of Link Crew leaders they needed.
The final number of Link Crew leaders in the school this year is 49, and those leaders work in pairs with groups of freshmen of about 10 students.
Samantha Plante and Austen Wek, both juniors at NBAHS, are two of the Link Crew leaders.
Initially, the two students said they started with the program because they like being involved in their school and they thought being a Link Crew leader would look good on college applications. But since the first weeks of school, they’ve become much more involved in Link Crew.
“Once I got involved it just kind of sucked me in and I’ve been really active in it,” Plante said.
Wek echoed that sentiment.
“I’m the same as Sam — I just totally got sucked in,” he said. “It kind of just snuck up on a lot of us, I think.”
Study sessions, homecoming event
Plante and Wek, like the other Link Crew leaders, work individually and in small groups with their freshmen, but Link Crew also hosts larger get-togethers with the freshman class.
Before school started this year, Link Crew had an orientation day with the incoming freshmen to give them tips about high school.
Link Crew leaders also set up a tour of the high school.
Since that time, Link Crew sponsored a homecoming event and a “cocoa and cram” session, Wek said, where freshmen were invited to come and study with upperclassmen for first trimester finals.
He noted the homecoming event was a big hit.
“On the day of homecoming, we set up stations for them to get their hair done and get their faces painted,” Plante said. “We were just trying to help them get involved with the student activities and get out there more.”
A worthwhile program
Plante, Wek, Redding and Wille all agreed Link Crew is a useful program for NBAHS.
There’s a measurable impact, according to Redding.
She said the instances of absenteeism among freshmen are down this year, as are tardies.
Plante and Wek said they’re noticing shy freshmen opening up to them.
“I’ll walk down the hall now and there are freshmen I don’t know, but they know who I am,” Wek said. “They feel comfortable talking with me.”
Wek said still this year he’d like Link Crew to organize a movie night for freshmen, and Plante said having youth recreation nights for the underclassmen might be a good activity to put on the docket.
Next year, Wille said she’d like Link Crew to focus more on academics.
“That’s kind of our big goal for next year; we’d like to do more academic follow-ups,” she said.
She added, “I think we had a really good start this year, and we have a lot of plans for next year. We’re looking forward to building the program.”