First day of school: A bell loudly rings and suddenly the students standing about campus channel into rivers of traffic, akin to Highway 50 in Sacramento at 8 a.m., directing themselves into specific classrooms, preparing to receive information that will shape their futures and direct the course of their lives.
Welcome to freshman year of high school.
Navigating the social scene, excelling in academics, improving at sports and dealing with pubescent body changes — all while still attempting to maintain an appearance of normality — are only some of the challenges these teens face. Thankfully, at Oak Ridge High School, these need not be faced alone.
The Link Crew, made up of juniors and seniors led by Oak Ridge assistant principal Ron Thomas, reaches out to incoming freshman.
“We act as their friends and their role model,” said Christine Keane, a senior and this year’s Link Crew treasurer.
“Our goal is to help the freshmen have a good transition … help them have a good year,” added Link Crew President Rebecca Dudley.
The students in Link Crew were each individually nominated by teachers and interviewed by Thomas. Their duties include planning Freshman Orientation, various activities and events throughout the school year and befriending freshmen on a more personal level. The group hosts fundraisers throughout the year to support events such as pool and pizza parties for freshmen only, and is also sponsored by the El Dorado Hills Vision Coalition.
“It’s great to have an upper classman as a resource. [Students] are much more inclined to talk to someone they have a relationship with,” said Thomas.
Over the summer the students received leadership training at a retreat at the Alliance Redwoods campgrounds.
“We truly focus on the leadership piece,” said Thomas, who meets quarterly with Link Crew members, encouraging them to reach out to their fellow students
The Link Crew program has been in place at Oak Ridge for about 15 years and has had enormous success. Thomas recalled his niece, who graduated from Oak Ridge several years ago and still maintains her friendship with her freshman Link Leader.
This year’s Freshman Orientation featured the Oak Ridge Varsity Cheerleading team forming a tunnel at the entrance to the gym, cheering on the bashful but obviously excited freshmen.
“It’s nice to know they care about freshmen,” said Delani Carlson, an entering student.
“It sounds really loud, but it’s great to know people are welcoming us,” said Frankie Braddock, part of the graduating class of 2016.
Toward the end of the school year, the Link Crew will reach out to the eighth graders at middle schools like Marina Village and Rolling Hills, answering questions and preparing them for their entrance to high school.
Link Crew President Rebecca Dudley shared her best advice to the incoming freshman at orientation: “Try your best and challenge yourself, but don’t overwhelm yourself.”