Starting the school year with strong connections
How BHS uses Link Crew to provide a meaningful transition and supportive community
Do you remember your first day of high school? How did you feel?
Maybe you were worried about being able to find or open your locker, stressed about the assignments, or had visions of a chaotic environment at lunch. You may have been nervous, excited, or just plain scared to start this new part of your life.
Chances are that incoming ninth graders over the last two years at Burnsville High School (BHS) had a very different and extremely positive experience thanks to something called Link Crew.
An initiative by the national company The Boomerang Project, which specializes in school culture and student connectivity, Link Crew is an activity-based program meant to build excitement about starting high school through student-to-student mentorships, fun events, and much more. BHS started exploring using the program in 2018 and after being delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, launched a modified version in 2021, with a full launch in 2022.
When the first request went out to staff asking if anyone would be interested in a program to help ninth graders, one of the teachers who jumped at the chance was Kim Harrod. Having graduated from BHS and now serving as a math and AVID teacher and swimming/diving coach for the district, she was excited to find new ways to welcome and support students transitioning to high school.
“The Link Crew training was the best professional development I have ever been to,” said Harrod. “They teach you a lot of best practices along with many ways to engage with students through a variety of activities focused on training the leaders and really connecting with the ninth graders.”
Juniors and seniors can sign up to be leaders and mentors through the Link Crew, completing a two-day training program before the first day of school. During the training, leaders learn how to facilitate the different activities as well as the messaging behind them tied to the culture at BHS including kindness, getting to know each other, and supporting each other. Norah Joseph is a senior at BHS who participated as a Link Crew Leader both years.
“I know I would have loved Link Crew as a freshman,” said Norah. “I think it’s important as an upperclassman to participate because we represent a very diverse community and have a lot of experience to share. It’s important that students coming into the school know that there is someone who maybe looks like them, shares their experiences, speaks their languages, and cares about them.”
All the training comes together on the first day of school, which is run as an orientation that feels more like a pep fest. Students hear a little bit about what to expect in high school, but the first part of the day is all about building excitement, while the second part of the day is about building connections. Small groups of ninth graders are led by two or three upperclassmen leaders, who take a tour of the school, ending up in a classroom to participate in different activities and create a special bond between students.
Activities range from challenges tied to important skills like being responsible, time management, learning names, and juggling multiple tasks. The groups have lunch together and connect with the leaders sharing their experiences and advice with the ninth graders.
“Our Link Leaders are almost like an older sibling who is there for our new students, not just on the first day, but throughout the year,” said Harrod. “It is very cool for our ninth graders to have a person who wants to be there for them.”
“I really enjoyed being involved in improving my community,” said Norah. “We offer help with everything from classwork to social issues and give our group several ways to contact and connect with us. We want them to know they can ask us for help!”
The structure of the first day is a fun and inviting approach to a welcome orientation, with every activity teaching students about what it means to be a member of the BHS community. It is amazing to see students truly engaging and enjoying the day as they work together and get to know each other, but the real impact of Link Crew happens after the first day is over.
Leaders continue their relationships with their crew members, saying “hi” in the hallway, being available to welcome new students to the school throughout the year, and even doing something called academic follow ups. Leaders are trained to lead a lesson through play in a ninth grade advisory class once per quarter. A recent lesson on excellence involved a paper airplane launch activity, which built on the structure that started on the first day of school.
Shalom Chakiso is a ninth grader who participated in the Link Crew events on the first day of school, and says the day was a great beginning to the school year.
“I am extremely thankful that us ninth graders got help from our Link Leaders,” said Shalom. “Before the first day of school, I was really scared and thought I would be lost or confused. When we got put into our groups, my leaders answered all the high school related questions that I had and made me feel welcome and prepared for day one!”
Harrod recently asked students in her ninth grade AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) class to share about people who inspire them. Two students offered that they were inspired by their Link Leaders.
“That gave me goosebumps,” she said. “It was so huge to have a junior in the school that they met earlier that week be someone that they felt inspired them, especially since they didn’t know that I was involved with Link Crew. Finding more ways to connect students and grow those relationships is such an important part of this program.”
The Boomerang Project tells districts that it usually takes three to five years to get the program fully going, and things are off to a great start at BHS. The 2023-24 school year will be the first year where students who had Link Leaders can volunteer to lead a crew themselves, and there are high hopes for what the program can accomplish.
“We want everyone to feel like they belong and like there is someone that will support them,” said Harrod. “We want the connections and bonds made between these students to help shape the culture of our school and we will keep working to get even more students involved and excited!”
Norah will graduate in June, but she has high hopes that more students continue to participate in Link Crew so that the representation of the incoming students is reflected in the leaders.
“I notice that kids come in with different concerns and priorities each year,” said Norah. “Keeping the strong connection between grade levels is important and we do so much for our community together. My advice to anyone considering being a part of Link Crew is to just do it!”