Link Crew brings students back together at JFK

By Saeri Plagmann

(Editor’s Note: The author is a journalism student at Kennedy High School and wrote this piece originally for the student newspaper, The Clarion.)

Link Leaders (Seniors Dayana Franco and Mariela Medrano) explain to a freshman Brianna Bahena when, where, and what time the tailgate party takes place.

During her freshman year, Sariyah Williams, current senior at John F. Kennedy High School, experienced what people call the “Freshmen Blues.” “I had no idea what I was doing. And I felt really weird and uncomfortable cause I had no one to talk to.”
Now, as a Link Crew leader, she’s become the person she wishes she had as a ninth grader: someone to talk to, get advice from, and receive constant support– a mentor.
More than 10 years have passed since the last Link Crew program at Kennedy. The purpose still remains the same since its last implementation: to help freshmen make a comfortable transition from middle school to high school. Kennedy is currently the only school in the Sacramento City Unified School District to have a Link Crew program, and students, parents, and faculty believe it to be changing the culture of the campus for the better.
But why have it now?
Carla DiBasilio, a freshman counselor and Link Crew advisor at Kennedy, says, “This is a program that I wanted to do for a long time, it just was waiting for funding and other like-minded people to come along.” She states the best way for a student to get the support they need is by having “students support students.”
Out of 200 junior and senior applicants, 80 were selected to be Link Crew leaders for the 2017-2018 school year.
Selected leaders underwent several hours of training over the summer to practice leadership and communication skills. It prepared them for the Link Crew Orientation that 500 freshmen were scheduled to attend. One of the many purposes of the orientation was to get the freshmen to be less intimidated on their first day of high school. By having them partake in team building activities and going on a campus tour, the leaders achieved exactly that.
Since the first day of school, the success of the program has been apparent throughout the campus. Freshmen were seen to make their way around the school with ease, and some were even eating lunch with their Link leaders.
Link advisors say several leaders were late to class because they were walking and helping students get to where they needed to be on time. Madison Brodeur, a freshman at Kennedy, says, “I asked my leader a lot of questions on the first day and I would’ve been lost.”
A significant leader and freshman interaction had taken place on orientation day. This leader was able to connect with a ninth grader after they both discussed their mutual interest in singing. The freshman, who was concerned with her electives because she had chosen them out of haste, was introduced to concert choir by her leader. Rather than having to sit through an uninterested elective for an entire school year, the freshman signed up for the class and eliminated her worries.
In most instances, students are unaware that school counselors are an option when facing challenges. The program has helped this option to be widely recognized.
According to DiBasilio, it took longer for freshmen to come in to talk to their counselors in previous years, but more are coming in sooner. The program has helped students get to know who their counselors are, as well as build a form of trust.
Elyna Cespedes, a junior and senior counselor and Link Crew advisor at Kennedy, says it is important for freshmen to feel comfortable around their counselors so that they know who to go to when it comes to academic or social concerns. Many students will go an entire year with unresolved problems, which can affect their grades and social relationships.
When considering the effect Link Crew will have on the future of the school, students and teachers can only see improvements. The Link Crew “used to be helpful before,” says government and economics teacher Richard Pauly, who noted “in ninth grade you lose a lot of kids because it’s a big change to come into high school. This gives them somebody they know that they can talk to,” to get advice and suggestions to stay on track.
The program offers benefits to everyone involved. Leaders themselves are at an advantage because the skills they gained from training allows them to be “leaders within their classrooms,” as Greg Palmer, freshmen counselor and Link Crew advisor, states. The training familiarizes them with how to talk to each other, as well as giving them the confidence to ask questions. These skills can be carried into college and into future careers.
Link advisors have also found that by leaders setting a good example to their freshmen, a domino effect will take place. “You have the seniors and the juniors that are getting to know each other, getting to be those leaders and showing examples of how juniors and seniors can look. And the freshmen that are watching that and saying, ‘OK, that’s how we’re supposed to be here at Kennedy, this is just what we do.’ So that just starts to change the culture,” says Palmer.
The Link Crew program has been a huge success so far. Link advisors are determined to continue it for next year, with more teachers aware and involved in the program. Williams, who took advantage of her leadership role and resolved several concerns from her freshmen in the first few weeks, says she believes Link Crew to be “beneficial because it helps out freshmen and it kind of gives them some sort of linkage,” as well as giving them a sense of hope and a reason to be at school.
The program is making small changes to the school every day. These improvements will eventually grow to have a major impact on the community. For events and future Link leader training, financial limitations continue to be a concern. The program will accept any donations to help support what many consider to be the revival of the crown jewel of the school.

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