Jaylen Jackson knew that he was going to be a fish out of water.
That’s what happens when you start high school – you adjust to a new schedule and a new style and a new scene. The kids that are older are somehow different, and everybody your age is grappling with their identity and who it is that they want to become.
It can be overwhelming. It can be excruciating.
So when the incoming freshmen from Joshua Cowell walked into the Sierra High School gymnasium on Friday morning for the school’s annual “Link Crew” orientation, he had no idea what to expect and no idea how he was going to respond.
Turns out it wasn’t quite that bad.
With English teacher Justin Minteer at the helm, the group of more than 350 moved surprisingly well through a series of activities and games and getting-to-know-you sessions aimed at taking students outside of their comfort zone and getting them plugged in with other students that might be able to help them as they adjust to the style of high school.
“It can be nerve-wracking,” Jackson said. “It’s nice though – all of the people that I’ve met and all of the link leaders have been really nice, and you get to meet people that you wouldn’t otherwise. Maybe you’ll be able to help them or they’ll be able to help you.
“So far I like it.”
According to Minteer, the entire idea of the day is to keep the kids off balance and put them into situations that they wouldn’t otherwise find themselves in. More often than not that means getting to talk to new people or just talking to people in general about things that often aren’t discussed – life questions and the sorts of mundane things that can reveal a lot about a person with little to no effort.
But it’s also about making them feel welcome. The “link leaders” that help introduce new students like Jackson to the school help break the tension and even some of the links to the existing that students have when they arrive on campus – a calculated move to promote branching out and meeting new people.
“The students have their built-in friends when they get here and that helps because they feel awkward – like they’re the little fish in this big gigantic sea,” Minteer said. “But what we want to do is get them out of their comfort zone a little bit. We want them to get goofy in front of people that they wouldn’t normally be goofy in front of. And we want them to build relationships with other students and the link leaders that can serve as role models and lead by example for the entire year.”
When Waldo Del Angel was a freshmen, participating in Link Crew not only helped him get acclimated to his surroundings, but it served as a chance to get to meet the students that he would be spending the next four years with.
And he took advantage of it.
Whenever he stopped off at his locker to put in a book he’d recognize that – she’s the girl I know from Link Crew. Whenever he started a new class at the beginning of a semester – that’s the guy I know from Link Crew.
So when the opportunity presented itself to be a leader, he jumped at it. He knew exactly how beneficial it could be.
“I came here that day by myself and was able to really make some connections with students and link crew leaders,” he said. “It helped me a lot, and I wanted to give back to something that gave so much to me.”