How is Wilton High School making sure that incoming freshman will have the most support possible as they start their high school experience? They have recruited other high school students to help them make that transition, through a new, student-run program called “Link Crew.”

This nationally-recognized transition program was created 25 years ago and is in use at more than 3,500 high schools across the U.S. It’s being implemented for the first time at WHS for the 2017-18 school year, after school psychologist Kim Zemo and guidance counselors Pamela Scott and Deborah Marino learned about the program at a conference last year. They’re using it as the second step in their efforts to strengthen the way the school helps freshman acclimate and adjust, following the creation of the FLIGHT program last year.

The difference between the two programs, says Link Crew student co-commissioner Grace Kirchof, is that while FLIGHT is a program run by the guidance counselors and faculty, Link Crew is student driven.

Kirchof, a rising senior, was recruited by Zemo to run Link Crew along with rising junior Noelle Roseman. They lead 80 student “Link Leaders,” other WHS juniors and seniors who have been going through training to become positive role models, motivators and mentors, to help guide the freshmen to discover what it takes to be successful during high school.

“The two programs will work together throughout the year though. Link [Crew members] will go into FLIGHT classrooms occasionally to help teachers with certain lessons,” she says, explaining that 2-3 link leaders will be paired together with an average group size of 13 freshmen.

Superintendent Dr. Kevin Smith thanks Link Crew Leaders for taking part in the program.

“The freshmen will learn that students and staff at our school really care about them and their success at Wilton High School.   The transition to high school is a very big event for an adolescent, yet there are not many substantial strategies for support. By starting Link Crew at Wilton High School we are putting in place a structure where freshmen will receive the necessary support they need to successfully navigate this transition,” says Kirchof, who says research backs up the program.

“Many studies show that if students have a positive experience their first year in high school, their chance of success increases dramatically.”

The side effect, Link Crew leaders say, is that as freshmen success increases, the benefits to the school culture and climate will impact everyone. One place they hope to see that is in a reduction in bullying.

“By forming close relationships between seniors and juniors with freshmen, we will erase the stigma of the upperclassmen being ‘scary and mean.’

The first Link Crew event involves welcoming the freshman class at Orientation on Monday, Aug. 28. School administrators will be wearing Link Crew t-shirts and the Link Leaders will be similarly identifiable with their own shirts, all in WHS blue-and-white. There will be a variety of ice-breaking activities at orientation, and then at the end of the first week of school there will the first-ever ‘Aloha Freshmen’ dance.

“Link Leaders will invite freshmen to come to the dance with them at Cider Mill. Along with the freshmen dance, Link Crew will host many fun activities throughout the year, and Link Crew leaders will also eat lunch with their freshmen group occasionally. All freshmen are also a part of an advisory group, which meets once a week on Wednesday for thirty minutes right before the hour period. Link Crew leaders will occasionally go into freshmen advisories to run lessons about goal setting, relationships, prioritizing and more,” Kirchof explains.

Breaking it down, there’s an actual structure to the effort. There are four components to the program:  starting with orientation, Link Leaders begin to form the mentor relationship and freshmen receive information about how to be successful throughout high school; then comes the academic follow ups when Leaders support freshmen academic success and character development through structured advisory visits; next are social follow ups in which link leaders and freshmen connect outside the school environment at social events to increase student engagement and promote positive school climate; last are individual, Leader-initiated contacts for Link Leaders to connect with their freshmen group on a more one-to-one basis.

For upperclassmen, Link Crew provides opportunities to get more involved in school climate and leadership efforts. There’s an executive board for seniors who help plan events, organize activities and strategize.  To become Link Leaders, junior and seniors had to fill out an interview questionnaire, create a video answering a question, or be recommended by a teacher. Sophomores are able to become involved through Link Crew’s “A-Team,” to help behind the scenes and train to take on leadership roles.

Kirchof and Roseman were selected as commissioners because of their prior leadership and involvement in similar efforts–Roseman serves on the School Climate Committee and Kirchof is on the executive board of Peervention.

They’re very excited to get the program off the ground.

“Link Crew will create a stronger bond between the freshmen and upperclassmen, which will create a more positive school climate. I believe by improving the school climate and bringing students together, we will create a stronger community than we already have. Link Crew can only help our community and leave a lasting effect.

Pictured above, main image (L-R):  Pamela Scott, Deborah Marino, Grace Kirchof, Noelle Roseman and Kim Zemo.