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Bemidji High School: Upperclassmen show ninth graders the ropes

Link Crew leader Stiina Stocker celebrates a victory on a balloon relay with ninth grader Mitch Buckanaga Thursday morning at the ninth-grade Orientation Day at the Bemidji High School. Shown watching the popping of the balloon was Kareigh Walkerstorker. The 64 upperclassmen applied to become Link Crew leaders to help incoming ninth-grade students feel more comfortable with the transition from middle school to high school. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

The first day of high school is a day most freshmen do not choose to repeat. New lockers, schedules, teachers, hallways, even a new lunch table to sit at - it's a lot to handle for a new set of eyes.

This year's staff at Bemidji High School hope to prevent the "deer in the headlights" look on freshmen's faces by letting upperclassmen lead the ninth grade orientation.

For a second year BHS's ninth grade Orientation Day follows the Link Crew model, a high school transition program in which members of the junior and senior class are trained to be Link Leaders. The leaders help guide the freshmen on what it takes to make a successful transition to high school.

This year 70 Link Crew leaders were trained to assist more than 400 freshmen.

"It is really going well this year," said Susan Bruns, assistant principal at BHS. "There are no parents, only students teaching students."

This was Bruns' second year coordinating Link Crew, along with Jen Voge, school counselor, Julie Maus, social studies teacher, and Travis Guida, work experience coordinator.

The days of hallways, corridors, and doorways assigned to certain grade levels are fading, said Bruns. Schools are beginning to experience a new culture.

Because the transition to a larger school can be overwhelming for freshmen, schools are finding a transition program is necessary to keep the school community alive and safe. The Link Crew provides a way for freshmen to ask for help from juniors and seniors, who have been through the challenges of high school.

"Link Crew Leaders are trained in team building activities and leadership skills," said Travis Guida. "They help create a positive school community."

In order to become a Link Crew leader, students must be at least a junior in high school; must be respected by students and staff; and should show leadership potential and good organizational skills. Students are typically nominated by teachers, but can also choose to nominate themselves.

The initial cost of starting the Link Crew is expensive. It can cost more than $2,000 to train a teacher in the program.

BHS received a grant last year which covered the initial costs of the training of Link Crew instructors and program materials. The BHS teachers who were trained in Link Crew trained 12 new teachers this year.

"Last year was our first year and we felt a little unorganized," said Jen Voge. "This year we want to keep Link Leaders involved and keep the momentum going throughout the year."

Link Crew is more than a one day event; the program spans an entire year. The Link Crew Leaders not only help organize and guide the freshmen through orientation day, but also help to facilitate a smooth transition throughout the year.

"The high energy level from the student leaders is fascinating," said Guida. "They show genuine Lumberjack pride."