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Massena High School begins new mentoring program

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MASSENA - Students entering their freshmen year at Massena High School will have a lending hand thanks to a new program initiated by the district.

Link Crew is a national high school transition program that welcomes freshmen and makes them feel comfortable throughout the first year of their high school experience by pairing them up with junior and senior Link Crew leaders for the year on the belief that students can help students succeed.

The Link Crew leaders act as mentors and student leaders who guide the freshmen to discover what it takes to be successful during the transition to high school.

The program consists of four components - high school orientation, when Link Crew leaders and freshmen start building the mentor relationship and freshmen receive information about how to be successful in high school; academic follow-ups in which Link Crew leaders support freshman academic success and character development through structured classroom visits; social follow-ups, when Link Crew leaders and freshmen connect outside the classroom at social events to increase student engagement, and promote positive school climate; and leader-initiated contacts in which Link Crew leaders connect with their freshmen on a more individual basis.

Massena High School already has a Freshman Academy, where students are grouped into teams to make the transition to high school easier. Now, with the Link Crew program, freshman guidance counselor Erin Covell said they hope to make that transition even better.

“It’s a mentoring program. The focus of the program is to change the climate of the school,” she said, noting one of the goals was to better connect the freshmen with the school.

Ms. Covell and Guidance Director Robert Jordan had visited Fayetteville–Manlius High School two years ago to see the program in action.

“I liked the way we did orientation, but I thought we could do better, so we went down to see it,” she said.

The orientation in past years has brought students into the school, where they receive their planners and schedules, walk through the school on their own and get their first crack at their locker combinations. Volunteer students from the upper classes would be in the hallways to point the freshmen in the right direction if they had questions about their destination.

But now that’s going to change with the introduction of Link Crew.

During their visit to Fayetteville-Manlius, Ms. Covell said, “One of the things that stuck with both of us is they said, with things being on the chopping block, it was the one program they would not touch.”

They brought that information back to the Massena Central School District and presented it to school officials. Once it was approved Mr. Jordan, high school Principal Patrick Farrand and Alternative Education Coordinator Jeremy Siddon attended three days of training in March.

“There was some work that had to be done in May to invite kids to be Link leaders,” Ms. Covell said.

They sent out invitations to select juniors and seniors, inviting them to become Link Crew leaders, and received responses from nearly all of them - 62 students who said yes.

“We weren’t sure how many kids” would sign up, she said.

But those fears were quickly alleviated when the responses started rolling in.

“We had kids call and email myself and Bob and ask if they could be a part of it, even the take-down and set-up of it. It turned out to be a really good thing,” Ms. Covell said.

It became so popular that some kids were even talking about it on Facebook, she said.

“They’re students who we recognized as having some leader potential in them. They’re not all athletes, they’re not all strong academically. It’s a strong cross-section, but good kids who have something to offer,” she said.

Two Link Crew leaders are paired together, and they’re responsible for at least 10 freshmen during the year.

“They partner with somebody who isn’t necessarily their best friend and who they may not know as well. That’s done purposely. This program has a very strict design to it. It’s like breaking down your comfort zone a little bit,” Ms. Covell said.

The 62 students took part in a two-day training session this week.

“We took them and broke them down into five groups. We had myself, Bob (Jordan), Pat (Farrand), Dan Haley, Jodi LaGarry and Roy Thomas. We’re all faculty leaders. We trained small groups in how to do these activities,” Ms. Covell said.

The goals behind the activities, she said, were team building and overcoming obstacles, and the students will teach those same activities to their freshmen.

They’ll get that opportunity on Tuesday when the freshmen visit the school for their orientation.

“They’ll come in Tuesday for freshmen orientation. They’ll be outside the gymnasium. The gymnasium doors will be closed and inside the gymnasium music will be pumping really hard. One of the Link leaders will say to them, ‘You guys ready for an awesome day? In a couple of minutes we’re going to open the doors and we’re going to have an awesome day,’” Ms. Covell said.

Once the doors are open, the freshmen will be divided into groups and will go with their two Link leaders to take part in activities that will act as ice breakers.

“They’ll spend a good part of the morning working through those activities with them, then give them a tour of the school. It’s very high energy. The kids have been trained to be very high energy,” she said.

“By the end of the orientation they’ll be comfortable asking them anything,” Ms. Covell said.

But it won’t stop there. The mentors will be available for the students for the next 10 months of school.

“It’s not a one-shot thing. They’ll stay with their freshmen throughout the year. They have to meet with them several times throughout the year. We’ll have different activities scheduled for them where they meet with them and plan activities,” Ms. Covell said.

The biggest goal will be to keep the freshmen connected to the school, she said.

“The community is facing some struggles. We want them to feel good about school,” she said.

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