High school can be a scary place for freshmen.
"It's really the fear of the unknown," said Kelley Neumann, a Tokay High School senior, who's heard students talk about fears of being dumped in trash cans by upperclassmen.
But more than 150 students at Tokay and Lodi high schools worked to dispel new school jitters for incoming freshmen this week through the Link Crew program.
The voluntary program pairs freshmen with seniors and juniors who serve as mentors to the new students, helping the freshmen navigate through high school during their first year. Students were introduced to their campus mentors at orientations this week at both schools.
Tokay has used Link Crew leaders for eight years while Lodi High's mentors have assisted freshmen for seven. Bear Creek High School in north Stockton also uses Link Crew leaders.
Shiny gold crowns, noise makers and candy were part of Lodi High School's freshman orientation held Tuesday.
Lodi High's Link Crew consisted of 76 juniors and seniors, who wore turquoise T-shirts.
The upperclassmen spoke to about 450 new students in small groups about the classes they enjoyed as ninth-graders, mistakes they had made and what they learned from those errs.
"You need friends to build you up and to give you advice," said Michael Hopps, a Lodi High junior. "Get involved. High school is what you make of it."
Gabi Delcastillo, a 14-year-old freshman, said Hopps answered questions she had about teachers and classes. She's not as nervous now about her first day of high school, she said.
Senior Sarah Alberg talked to 10 freshmen about different aspects of high school, including teachers and classes. She later used candy as a stimulus for a quiz on the information.
"Tell me the names of two freshman English teachers," Alberg said.
"Mr. McIntosh is one," said one freshman, who was rewarded with a Blow Pop for his correct answer.
Kate Reynolds, 14, said she enjoyed the games the group played to meet other students.
"I'm excited about high school, but I'm nervous too," she said.
Cat Ricketts, Lodi High's Link Crew coordinator, said teen-agers often listen better to their peers than school officials.
"We started the program because freshmen were being harassed by the seniors. We wanted to welcome the freshmen," she said.
Ricketts, a social science teacher, said the orientation turned out to be a success, drawing more than half of the 700 new students to learn more about the school.
At Tokay, more than 650 freshmen met their Link Crew leaders, who wore canary yellow T-shirts, Friday morning.
The freshmen heard a speaker and participated in activities as the Class of 2005. They later broke up into small groups to learn more about other students and the school.
"I was kind of scared that I might have a mean Link leader," said Hector Madrigal, 13.
But Madrigal's fears subsided when he met his mentor, Ruth Hudson, an energetic and cheerful senior. "It's pretty fun," the new student said.
Hudson, 17, shared some of her experiences at the school during the activities.
"The best teacher at this school is Steve Von Berg. He's a history teacher," she said. "When he teaches, he tells it like a story. If you get him, you're very lucky."
Hudson's group later toured the campus, wearing aprons and carrying kitchen utensils and a sign that read, "Freshmen love to cook." They were linked together by red-colored plastic wrap.
Matthew Bronson, Tokay's co-coordinator of Link Crew, said many of the mentors used items, including as balloons and hats, to make the students feel a part of their groups.
English teacher Bronson said the program is all about teen-agers helping the younger students adjust to their new environment.
Some upperclassmen said they enjoy being mentors.
"I have so much fun doing it," said 17-year-old Neumann of her experience last year. "That's the main reason that I'm back this year."
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