South Tahoe High program transforms student cultures
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — When freshman Hannah Heidel started at South Tahoe High School this year, she didn’t face the normal trepidation associated with entering a new school.
Her mother, Bridey Heidel, said the smooth transition is due to a senior reaching out on a personal level as part of the new Link Crew program.
“The familiarity of getting to know the campus and meeting the older students took away a lot of the fear of starting high school,” Heidel said.
Link Crew pairs a group of incoming freshmen with a junior or senior to ensure a smooth transition to high school.
Fellow parent Shannon Beni agreed, noting that her own freshman daughter enjoyed the interaction with seniors and juniors.
“It was a great way to start the school year and cultivate a culture,” Beni said.
South Tahoe High Principal Chad Houck said Link Crew’s national data shows a positive shift in the high school culture after a group of students go through the program in three years.
“Attendance improves … and grades go up,” Houck said. “If the culture is good, students will want to be here and strive to do better academically.”
South Tahoe High School teachers Whitney Pomeroy and Nathan Crnich trained 63 seniors and juniors, called Linked Leaders. Each leader was paired with groups of five freshmen.
According to Houck, Link Leaders connected with freshmen by sending out handwritten letters before the school year started. They then followed up with phone calls inviting them to freshman orientation.
“People, and teenagers especially, tend to stick to their social bubble,” Pomeroy said. “Connections between upperclassmen and freshmen don’t always form naturally, so Link Crew really pushes students out of their social comfort zone.”
Crnich said the program allows seniors and juniors to engage to their freshmen charges on several fronts.
“When they meet, they start with activities that have a purpose,” Crnich said. “You get all the kids up and moving, and then coming back and reflecting on the decisions made.”
According to Crnich, Link Leaders also act as an informal stress indicator and counselor in case their freshmen charges exhibit concerning behavior.
“We’re much more inclined to listen to our peers than to an authority figure when it comes to general advice,” Crnich said.
Houck said the program has reshaped the high school culture for the better.
“Four or five years ago, the older students made sure to let the younger students know they were new,” Houck said. “Last year, that culture evolved and Link Crew is a powerful part of that evolution.”
Pomeroy noted the difference as well.
“The fact that all freshmen are linked with upperclassmen before school even begins really solidifies the idea that we are all Vikings, and we are in this together,” she said.