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Massena High School begins new mentoring program

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MASSENA — Students entering their freshmen year at Massena High School will have a helping hand thanks to a new program initiated by the district.

Link Crew is a national high school transition program that welcomes freshmen and makes them feel comfortable throughout the first year of their high school experience by pairing them up with junior and senior Link Crew leaders for the year on the belief that students can help other students succeed.

The Link Crew leaders act as mentors and student leaders who guide the freshmen to discover what it takes to be successful during the transition to high school.

The program consists of four components: high school orientation, when Link Crew leaders and freshmen start building the mentor relationship and freshmen receive information on 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.

Massena High School already has a Freshman Academy, where students are grouped into teams to make the transition to high school easier. Now, with the Link Crew program, freshman guidance counselor Erin Covell said it hopes to make that transition even better.

“It’s a mentoring program. The focus of the program is to change the climate of the school,” she said, noting one of the goals was to better connect the freshmen with the school.

Ms. Covell and Guidance Director Robert J. Jordan had visited Fayetteville–Manlius High School two years ago to see the program in action.

“I liked the way we did orientation, but I thought we could do better, so we went down to see it,” she said.

The orientation in past years has brought students into the school, where they receive their planners and schedules, walk through the school on their own and get their first crack at their locker combinations. Volunteer students from the upper classes would be in the hallways to point the freshmen in the right direction if they had questions about their destination.

But now that’s going to change with the introduction of Link Crew.

During their visit to Fayetteville-Manlius, Ms. Covell said, “One of the things that stuck with both of us is they said, with things being on the chopping block, it was the one program they would not touch.”

They brought that information back to the Massena Central School District and presented it to school officials. Once it was approved, Mr. Jordan, high school Principal Patrick J. Farrand and Alternative Education Coordinator Jeremy J. Siddon attended three days of training in March.

“There was some work that had to be done in May to invite kids to be Link leaders,” Ms. Covell said.

They sent out invitations to select juniors and seniors, inviting them to become Link Crew leaders, and received responses from nearly all of them — 62 students who said yes.

“We weren’t sure how many kids” would sign up, Ms. Covell said.

But those fears were quickly alleviated when the responses started rolling in.

“We had kids call and email myself and Bob and ask if they could be a part of it, even the take-down and set-up of it. It turned out to be a really good thing,” Ms. Covell said.

It became so popular that some youths were even talking about it on Facebook, she said.

“They’re students who we recognized as having some leader potential in them. They’re not all athletes; they’re not all strong academically. It’s a strong cross-section, but good kids who have something to offer,” she said.

Two Link Crew leaders are paired together, and they’re responsible for at least 10 freshmen during the year.

“They partner with somebody who isn’t necessarily their best friend and who they may not know as well. That’s done purposely. This program has a very strict design to it. It’s like breaking down your comfort zone a little bit,” Ms. Covell said.

The 62 students took part in a two-day training session last week.

“The community is facing some struggles. We want them to feel good about school,” Ms. Covell said.

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