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Hall Freshmen Get Special Treatment from Upper-Class Mentors

'Link Crew' members help ease the transition to high school for freshmen at West Hartford's Hall High School.

The first day of high school can be a scary occasion for an incoming freshman. We've all heard those stories about seniors giving wide-eyed freshmen the wrong directions to a classroom, or worse.

At , several energetic teachers and about 80 juniors and seniors have worked to ensure that this year's group of incoming freshmen will not be walking around with that "deer in the headlights" look when they report for school Wednesday morning.

Math teacher Christina Tysh and English teacher Matt West spent several days last week working with the 80 members of Hall's "Link Crew," and on Monday and Tuesday those Hall upperclassmen met with groups of freshmen, giving tours, providing "survival" tips, and conducting team building exercises to ease the transition to high school.

Link Crew is part of "The Boomerang Project," a nationwide orientation and mentoring program that trains high school juniors and seniors to be freshman mentors. The goal is to provide positive role models and assist incoming students in discovering how to successfully make the transition to high school.

The program is similar to freshman advisory groups which are a common part of the college orientation process, but Hall's program is unique to high schools in the area.

"There are hundreds of schools throughout the country that do this, but most of them are on the West Coast. The program started in California in 1987," West said.

He and Tysh attended a three-day training program last year where they learned how to run the program and recruit upperclassmen. This is the second year of Link Crew at Hall. This year, 80 juniors and seniors attended two days of training last week before being assigned their freshman groups on Monday.

The program benefits the freshmen, who now have an extra day of orientation and a chance to meet and bond with other classmates as well as upperclassmen before the first day of school. It also helps the upperclassmen develop their leadership skills.

"We have a diverse population, and they come from several different schools. This program helps bring cohesiveness and build spirit," West said.

Two upper-class leaders are assigned groups of 8-10 freshmen who are divided up by homeroom assignments. The first day of Link Crew Orientation includes "play to teach" activities, many of which involve music, funny hats, beach balls, and other props. Freshmen learn about the school and each other, through team juggling, playing "64 squares," and other bonding activities. Upperclassmen are even asked to share a personal struggle with their groups.

Link Crew Leaders are easily identified by their turquoise t-shirts, with a message on the back that is a take-off on Carly Rae Jepson's song "Call Me Maybe." The shirts read: "Hey, I just met you, And high school's crazy, But I'm your mentor, So call me, maybe..." And contact is encouraged. Leaders will make themselves available, and are asked to provide their cellphone numbers and friend their group members on Facebook.

Senior Claire O'Brien is involved in several sports and clubs at Hall. She became a leader this year after she saw that her sister, who is now a sophomore, benefited from the Link Crew program last year. "I want to encourage [the freshmen] to get involved. The tour is helpful, and so is just getting to know another person," O'Brien said.

Pat King is officially a Hall freshman this morning. He was glad for the opportunity to participate in Monday's Link Crew Orientation program, and was looking forward to coming back for the second day. "It was really good. We had a tour, played games, and got to know some other people," King said.

Link Crew doesn't end once school begins. Mentors are urged to remain in contact with their team members throughout the year, and the groups officially reconvene around midterm time, for ""Cocoa and Cram."

"The program has been very well-received, so much that we even got 80 upperclassmen to give up four days of their summer vacation," said West.

Lew Block August 29, 2012 at 10:52 AM
Interesting. All I got from my incoming freshman was a litany of how stupid it was and what a waste of his time to do an all day (Monday) team building exercise with people he already knows. Wondering if anyone distributed a questionnaire to the kids to get their real opinion when no teacher was listening?
angie August 29, 2012 at 12:17 PM
I have two sons who participated in this program. One is a senior and a Link Leader/Mentor for a second year, and the other one is a Freshman. As a parent, I think it is a wonderful program for both sons. A program that allows my senior to be a mentor to any freshman who might need a friendly familiar face to give advice about a sport or directions to a class. My Freshman, who is confident and has zero transitional issues, saw the program as an opportunity to be able to be on campus an extra day and bond with old and new friends before school started. He told stories of events throughout the day and only had positive things to say. Sure, some of the games were considered silly, but it only teaches them to go with the flow, Not sure how anyone could find fault in a peer mentoring program...Especially when teenagers are involved! So proud of my kids for recognizing the benefits of this program and making the most of a summer morning and the year to come!!!
Lew Block August 29, 2012 at 12:37 PM
Angie, don't get me wrong, I am all for the program. I am just giving some feedback from my child.
Rajkumar Oberoi August 29, 2012 at 04:34 PM
This single capsule program of seniors interacting with freshers is healthy dose to develop multitasking to achieve better leadership & will go long way to better teacher pupil relationship. The new concept of teacher evaluation program will be carved out to help teacher,parent & student to solve many problems to their taste.

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