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Liberty Ranch Link Crew connects incoming freshmen with mentors

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Posted: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 12:00 am

Each August, a group of Liberty Ranch High School upperclassmen meet incoming freshman before the first day of school even begins.

Their goal: To show the new students around the campus and make them feel welcome.

The participants are part of Link Crew, a nationwide high school transition program that welcomes freshmen and works to make them feel comfortable throughout the first year of their high school experience.

In a nutshell, Link Crew provides the structure for freshmen to receive support and guidance from juniors and seniors who have been through the challenges that high school poses, and understand that the transition to a larger school can sometimes be overwhelming, according to its creators.

It all starts with freshman orientation, where Link Leaders start building mentor relationships with incoming students, while freshmen receive information about how to be successful in high school. That was held earlier this month, the week before classes started at Liberty Ranch.

Senior Jason Medlock said he joined Link Crew to help make a difference in the lives of incoming freshman.

“They need to know they are important and they can make a difference on this campus,” he said.

Principal Brian Deis first learned of the national Link Crew program when he was an administrator at Galt High. He had already brought “shadow days” to the campus to give the school’s incoming freshmen an opportunity to meet an upperclassman, get a tour of the campus and learn more about the school.

“The Link Crew program would take that program to a whole new level,” he said, adding that he wasn’t able to launch it at Galt High, but made it a part of Liberty Ranch’s comprehensive plan to develop school spirit and a positive culture from its very beginning. The school opened in 2009.

Since then, Deis has received nothing but positive feedback from students, parents and teachers alike.

“An added benefit is the tremendous personal growth in our juniors and seniors who serve as Link Leaders,” he said. “It’s important to know that this program is much more than just a group of kids welcoming our incoming freshmen with an orientation.”

Throughout the school year, there will be academic follow-ups, where Link Leaders will support freshman academic success and character development through structured classroom visits. There will also be social follow-ups such as luncheons, connecting the groups outside the classroom to increase student engagement and promote positive school climate.

Link Crew member and senior Riley Hunt said the most exciting thing is seeing freshmen excel in class and become more involved in school activities through this program.

There may also be leader-initiated contacts where Link Leaders connect with their freshmen on a more individual basis.

Link Crew’s adviser is Lyn Neumann. Many of its student leaders share similar reasons for participating: To make a difference.

“I believe if we get the freshmen on a good path and make them feel good about themselves, then a chain reaction will occur,” senior Emily Tennis said.

Junior Camille Jocson thought it would be a great opportunity to help freshmen not make the same mistakes she made her freshmen year, she said.

“I joined Link Crew to better myself, in order to become a role model to the younger students,” Jocson said.

Class of 2013 graduate Faith Lemire-Baeten participated in Link Crew as a leader during her junior year.

“It was a key part to making freshmen feel comfortable in the high school and ensuring that they are confident from the first day onward,” she said. “I always had upperclassmen friends because of my older brother, but many incoming students don’t. Link Crew provides them with the support they need.”

Studies show that if students have a positive experience their first year in high school, their chance for success increases, and the number of drop-outs decreases dramatically.

Locally, Deis says Link Crew — along with the other programs that have been brought to Liberty Ranch, including the Breaking Down the Walls anti-bullying program, Rachel’s Challenge, which focuses on respect and kindness, and Safe Schools Ambassadors — have all contributed to a positive school climate.

“(This) creates an environment where students want to come to school and behave in a more respectful manner,” he said.

Link Crew’s goal is also to provide schools with a structure in which students make real connections with each other, increasing school safety and reducing incidences of bullying with anti-bullying education.

Lemire-Baeten said her experience helping underclassmen was rewarding, and she thinks it’s great that the program is available to incoming freshmen now, as it wasn’t when she started at Liberty Ranch.

“Being a part of Liberty Ranch’s Link Crew means being a part of a force that encourages students to see school as an experience, not a chore,” she said.

It also helps them feel welcome, according to current senior Bailey Hicks.

“Each leader has a partner, and that partnership looks over about 10 freshmen,” Hicks said. “We try to make sure they are doing well in school and that they know someone on campus cares about them.”

Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at jenniferb@lodinews.com.

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