Links to the future |

Links to the future

Link Leader Jessica Whitten (right) leads her group of freshmen through a learning game called "64 Squares" at an orientation at Nevada Union High School on Aug. 6.
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Sweaty palms, locked knees, nervous looks on their faces. Every year it’s the same. Freshmen show up for their first day of high school with a number of fears: fear of failing math, fear of not getting their lockers open, fear of being shoved into a locker.

This year, a group of juniors and seniors at Nevada Union High School, with the support of key adults, decided it was time for that to change.

The Nevada Union freshman class of 2006 got a jump-start on the school year with the second annual Link Crew Freshmen Orientation on Aug. 6. One hundred thirty-six juniors and seniors served as mentors to the incoming class of more than 800 with one purpose in mind: to make the transition from middle school to high school a positive experience.

Wearing their yellow shirts, the leaders clapped and cheered for the freshmen as they burst through the doors into the Ali Gym at 8 a.m. Activities throughout the day, from name games to a tour of the school, promoted the idea that high school isn’t the nightmare it’s made up to be. One of the games, a trial-and-error activity called “64 Squares,” acted as a metaphor for high school and life.

Statistics have shown that three or four contacts with freshmen within the first week of school will raise success rates significantly. The most important message is that the leaders are there to help the freshmen be successful.

A group of 10 to 12 freshmen are assigned to two link leaders, who facilitate the activities and provide a connection with upperclassmen.

Each group is united by a theme. One group was a sandwich, in which the leaders were the pieces of bread and the freshmen, the fillings. Another was a wedding party, in which the leaders were bride and groom to their freshman groomsmen and bridesmaids.

In addition, freshmen were also given a list of advice compiled by the leaders titled “What Every Freshman Should Know,” with pointers such as “Watch for that puddle in the quad” and “Don’t stop in the middle of the halls.”

“Overall, I feel more comfortable with the school. The best part is that if I need any help, I have someone to ask,” said Justin Trefero, 14, an incoming freshman.

Hoping that the freshmen will feel welcome and more connected to the school, NU students applied for the opportunity to become link leaders at the end of the last school year. After being selected, leaders went through a series of training sessions and hours of preparation for orientation.

Link Crew is overseen by coordinator Claudia Kinseth, activities director and leadership teacher at NU. She says the program is a win-win situation for everyone involved.

“It is so rewarding to look out in the bleachers and see so many smiles and feel the spirit and energy,” Kinseth said.

Besides Kinseth, staff members Bruce Kinseth, Renee Wood and Lyn Keck are also firm supporters of the program. Many teachers and administrators agree that Link Crew “brings a different air to campus, and provides for a wonderful first day,” Kinseth said.

The program doesn’t stop with orientation day. “There will be plenty of opportunity for social follow-up, whether just by saying hi in the halls, or through phone communication, tailgate parties, movie nights and even tutoring for the freshmen,” said Kinseth. A dance exclusively for freshmen and their leaders is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 23.

Link Crew was developed in 1989 by Phil Boyte of Learning for Living, Inc. The Link Crew program is used at more than 300 high schools nationwide, and welcomed 250,000 freshmen into high school in 2001. The program boasts increased rates of attendance, decreased discipline problems and decreased dropouts.

Applications to become one of next year’s link leaders will be available to sophomores and juniors in April 2003.

Anne Lowrey, a 16-year-old resident of Grass Valley, will be a junior at Nevada Union High School this year. Write her in care of Youth Page, The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945, or at

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