September 1, 2010
By Jason Misner
COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER, HDSB STAFF
An excited group of Grade 11 and 12 students, called Link Leaders, form a corridor and begin clapping and cheering just inside the doors of a school gymnasium during the morning of orientation day.
Then the stars of the show appear – Grade 9 students.
The rookie high school students high-five the Link Leaders as they nervously enter the gym to the sound of high-energy music, wondering what exactly awaits them.
Welcome to the inclusive way Grade 9 students are being welcomed into their new world of high school learning at virtually all of Halton District School Board’s 16 secondary schools. It’s called Link Crew and its goal is to help Grade 9s make a smoother, gentler and less intimidating transition to high school. It also hits on a few important curriculum points along the way in subjects like civics and physical education and addresses anti-bullying and respect for differences messages.
It also teaches the students valuable life lessons.
The latest crop of Grade 9 students will get exposed to the fun program on the first day of school on Tuesday, Sept. 7; Robert Bateman, Milton and Georgetown District high schools will run the program in the week prior to Sept. 7 to accommodate bussing schedules.
Moria Chisholm, the board’s Instructional Program Leader and Grade 8-9 Newcomer Transition, said Link Crew – first offered at Nelson High School seven years ago to further student success goals – has proven very valuable.
She said Grade 9 students develop a sense of belonging and acceptance by linking them with Link Leader role models – the very students they will see and interact with at their school.
During the orientation day, students engage in playful, interactive activities like name tag (remembering names) and describing favourite toys, events or people from their childhood Chisholm said.
“It’s fantastic,” she said of the program, noting parents have been appreciative of Link Crew. “The feedback has been good. The message is always, ‘Get involved, be your best, respect others’.”
“Most schools that do it on the very first day of school, (Grade 9) attendance is 99 per cent.”
The board is expecting approximately 4,100 Grade 9 students this upcoming school year.
Specifically, Link Crew is a high school transition program provided by the Santa Cruz, California-based Boomerang Project. With the help of teacher supervision, it welcomes Grade 9s and makes them feel comfortable throughout the first year of their high school experience via guidance from Link Leaders who have experienced the nervousness of starting high school.
According to Boomerang Project’s website, studies show if students have a positive experience their first year in high school, their chance for success increases dramatically.
Halton public board teachers are trained to deliver the program through an intensive three-day learning seminar offered once a year by the Boomerang Project; the Link Leaders – who apply for the positions – receive two half-days of learning in the summer before the next school year starts. The goal is to pair two Link Leaders with every 10 Grade 9 students.
A key part of Link Crew is taking learning and transition beyond a single-day event to help Grade 9 students throughout the year. The Link Leaders – who learn teamwork, problem solving and leadership skills, Chisholm explained – organize movie and game nights, pancake breakfasts and karaoke parties, just to name a few, to keep everyone communicating and involved in school activities, further building a strong sense of community.
Further, Link Leaders provide several half-hour lessons to Grade 9 students, called ‘academic follow-ups’, at different points of the school year, touching on subjects like appreciating the differences in people and anti-bullying.
Grade 12 student Emily Zakrajsek was exposed to Link Crew in Grade 9 and enjoyed it so much, she will be a Link leader this year. She said the program really helped her acclimatize to high school as she was a “little nervous.”
Zakrajsek said they took part in games like Link Olympics.
“I remember it calmed me down a little bit,” the Aldershot High School student recalled. “It helped me settle into the environment right away.”
Chisholm added schools can measure the success of Link Crew be evaluating areas including Grade 9 responses to the Board’s School Effectiveness survey (questions asking about a sense of belonging and safety).