Forming a Link

New peer mentoring group “Link Crew” encourages communication between the upperclassmen and freshmen.

Elly Keyes, Reporter

2020 has been a whirlwind of changes and struggles. Everyone from teachers to students has felt lost while navigating the current school year. However, this has especially had an impact on the freshmen as they have had to adjust to both hybrid learning and a new school altogether. Link Crew is a program in which juniors and seniors are called on to mentor the incoming freshmen class as a way of relieving the stresses that come with starting high school. This program began forming at Shawnee Heights last spring and has moved forward into the new school year– though with many changes. 

“It was supposed to be interactive and fun, togetherness, you know? Creating that togetherness on Zoom, that’s challenging,” Diane Morgan said. “So I mean, that would really say how plans have changed. It’s just totally different.” 

Link Crew is a national program started by a company called The Boomerang Project. The purpose is to assign groups of freshmen to Link Leaders, who are all upperclassmen. Four teachers, Diane Morgan, Mitchell Spade, Sherri Wilson, and Tiffany Underwood, stepped up to be sponsors last year and had hoped that Link Crew would not only give freshmen a chance to receive guidance from upperclassmen but also to get to know older students who they would already be familiar with when going into high school. 

“Some of the things that leaders would be doing-especially with homecoming week– is encouraging their freshmen to go to the dance and kind of inviting them– they don’t have to go together,” Underwood said. 

Although the program was meant to help freshmen get to know students they could interact with during school, this has become difficult to do in practice with safety precautions such as a reduced number of students in school and masks.

“I believe (Link Crew) has been the most successful as we could make it because it would be hard to recognize Link Leaders when we’re wearing masks and who their (freshmen) groups are and who’s in their group when the masks are being worn,” Hope Cavazos, commissioner, said. “There’s not a whole lot of– I’d say, like, confrontation– with the freshmen because typically as juniors or as the Link Leaders– the upperclassmen– they don’t have classes with the freshmen. So it’s kind of hard for them to know exactly who is who.” 

Cavazos is one of the Link Crew Leaders who underwent training over the summer in preparation for mentoring the freshmen in a new and mostly virtual environment. Though they don’t see their group members on a daily basis, the leaders have still found ways to keep in touch with their students.

“I’ll check in on them and ask them how they’re doing,” Cavazos said. “We asked them how their first day of school went, or first week of school, and it’s just via email.” 

Link Leaders were also given the opportunity to interact with all the freshmen in their groups during an orientation they held via Zoom due to the pandemic. The orientation began with different ice-breaker games which were meant to help students feel more comfortable around one another, before transitioning to a time for freshmen to ask any questions they may have.

“I believe at first, it was kind of weird for them to be like, ‘Oh, they’re all just going to be positive, and they’re gonna make me do these activities,’ but it actually ended up being: let me get to know your name or kind of like a would you rather,” Cavasos said. “Just getting to know more about each other. So I think that helped.” 

With only seeing their students once a week, it has become difficult for teachers to really get to know their students, and the sponsors are hoping that Link Crew will ensure those students who need help that they have someone to reach out to. 

“We’ve never asked our students, kind of, in general at Shawnee Heights to put themselves in this role to be such a leader for the freshmen,” Underwood said. “I think that was just really powerful to see all them step up.”