MASSENA - The old days of incoming Massena Central High School freshmen individually walking around the high school during their orientation as they try find their classrooms and wall lockers - and get the lockers open - are gone.
In its place, they’re now welcomed with open arms by a select group of seniors and juniors who have volunteered for the Link Crew program, acting as mentors for the incoming students even before the first day of school arrives.
Such was the case Wednesday, when freshmen gathered outside the closed doors of the high school gymnasium, unaware of what was waiting for them inside.
“Sweepers” - a designated group of Link Crew leaders - greeted the freshmen outside the gym. Once the doors were open, they led them through the “gauntlet,” two rows of Link Crew leaders lined up to give them high fives as they passed through.
With music blaring throughout the gym, the freshmen lined up to get name tags as “bleacher creatures” - other designated Link Crew leaders wearing shirts that read “Link Crew ‘14 - We’ve got your back” - danced in the bleachers and waited for the students to settle in. Behind them, one of the signs on the wall read, “You are the future, so start strong.”
Each Link Crew team will be responsible for mentoring about 10 to 12 freshmen during the year, and Wednesday was an opportunity for them to meet for the first time. That initial linking up process was important, according to counselor Robert Jordan.
“We should not see a blue shirt next to a blue shirt. We should see a blue shirt next to a freshman. We’re not going to be separated at all. We’re going to be together in every way, shape and form,” he said told the Link Crew leaders in a pre-event pep talk.
The freshmen and their Link Crew leaders spent time going through ice-breaking and team-building activities to kick off the day. Among them was a “balloon pop,” a relay race-type event in which a team of six freshmen males and a another team of six freshmen females had to individually pop a balloon with their Link Crew leader. The catch was, they couldn’t use their hands, but rather their bodies to crunch the balloon and pop it.
Around mid-morning, the teams split up for small group sessions and tours of the building before taking part in a picnic in the school court yard. But not before Mr. Jordan had some words of advice for the freshmen.
He said there were three types of people. Among them, Mr. Jordan said, were “ the people that are do-ers, that make things happen.”
The do-ers were willing to take on responsibility, even if they didn’t know what the ultimate consequence would be - much like some of the team exercises that some freshmen volunteered for on Wednesday.
“They didn’t know what they were getting into. They took a risk,” Mr. Jordan said. “Everybody here has the potential to be a do-er.”
Link Crew leaders were also do-ers, he said.
‘“They wanted to come forward for no other reason than to help you. These guys have your back,” he said.
Do-ers are also the individuals who go out for sports and join clubs, even if they don’t make the final cut, according to Mr. Jordan.
The second kind of people are those who watch, which he said wasn’t a bad thing since watchers could be people like those sitting in the crowd enjoying a sporting event.
“Most of you are watchers sitting in the bleachers right now,” he said.
The third kind of person, he said, are those who didn’t attend Wednesday’s orientation, “people that wonder what happened.”
“This is for you,” Mr. Jordan said of the orientation. ““Those people that didn’t come today don’t know what happened. You’re going to be armed with that information and ready to go.”
He suggested that the freshmen look for every opportunity to be a do-er in the next four years of high school.
“You’re going to have an infinite number of opportunities to become a do-er. Take that chance,” he said.
They’ll have the opportunity to take advantage of those while under the mentoring of the Link Crew leaders, who are taking part in the national high school transition program that welcomes freshmen and makes them feel comfortable throughout the first year of their high school experience.
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.