Link Crew Comes to the Rescue of Nervous Freshmen

As far as welcoming parties go, this one was special. This one was a first.
Nearly 380 La Cañada High School students volunteered to get up early and spend a few hours at school before the school year started this week.
Three hundred of the 347 freshman enrolled at LCHS this fall joined 78 juniors and seniors who together networked in a new way with the debut of the Link Crew. The program is intended to connect incoming freshmen with upper-grade mentors — starting with a series of trust- and team-building exercises Tuesday morning.
Following this week’s kickoff, the Link Crew will participate in three scheduled activities per quarter, and the 80 upperclassmen who were selected from a pool of nearly 200 applicants also will be charged with keeping up with the freshman with whom they were linked this week.
“That’s the big focus — to bridge that gap between the upperclassmen and the lowerclassmen,” said Sarah Beattie, a history teacher and basketball coach, who helped run the show Tuesday. “To make [the 9th-graders] feel like this is a place where they care about you; they’re not big, mean seniors.”
“The upperclassmen are not here to haze you, but to bring you in and welcome you,” said Dan Yoder, a history teacher who led the 9th-, 11th- and 12-grade students seated together in gym bleachers through a series of call-and-response activities.
Beattie, Yoder and psychology teacher Gavin Williams also loosened everyone up with a competitive game of Simon Says. And then 10 students were selected to pop balloons by “hugging it out.” After that, everyone lined up in 10 long lines and sorted themselves according to height and their birthdays — without talking.
There was a point, of course, to all of this fun, which some freshmen characterized as “awkward” — and appropriately so, said senior Link Crew member Zoe Williams: “High school is awkward!”
After the students organized themselves from tallest to shortest, Yoder, a history teacher, asked them to think about what had happened: Some students knew where they stood and headed directly for one end of the line or the other. Others hung back and observed before deciding where they fit in.
“Like high school!” Yoder said. “The reality is: La Cañada High School has a spot for you, and you just found your spot!”
The presentation was scripted, the teachers divulged. Along with a few other LCHS administrators and counselors, they’d spent three days this summer at a training session in Temecula preparing them for the program. The upperclassmen involved — carefully selected to represent a cross-section of the LCHS student body — also went through three days of training, one in May and two last week.
It was Assistant Principal Mary Hazlett who introduced the program to LCHS and LCHS 7/8 (a similar welcome for incoming 7th-graders took place Wednesday). She said the Link Crew at Glendale High School, where she formerly worked, resonated across campus, even changing the grade-based hierarchy within some sports teams.
After a couple of hours as a large group in the gym, the students reported to smaller groups, with pairs of orange-shirted Link Crew leaders taking eight or nine freshmen to separate classrooms for more activities, so that they could get to know one another better and then take an insider’s campus tour.
When they returned a couple of hours later, energized and swaying in their seats to the music of Miley Cyrus, each small group was identifiable by a distinctive prop or piece of attire. One group wore Harry Potter scarves, another had on tie-dyed shirts and another sported Burger King crowns.
And then, before the program ended with pizza for lunch, the teachers implored all the students not to let their time slip away. To prove the point, Williams asked students if they were familiar with the adage “time is money.” When they responded affirmatively, he ripped up a dollar bill to prove his point. They gasped — but they got it.
“It was really fun,” freshman Emma Garland said. “It felt like the leaders were really genuine. They could’ve come in and said, ‘Oh, they’re just little freshmen, we don’t care.’ But it seemed like the genuinely cared.”
Because they do.
“I’ve always had a tough time through my years in high school,” senior Vance Redmon said. “So I thought it would be good to start helping younger kids to understand high school a little better. I think if this had been here before, I would’ve tried a little more stuff and realized mistakes aren’t always mistakes, they’re ways to learn.
“And today,” he said, “we had a ton of fun together.”

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