This is senior Kimberly Morales’ second year in Sunny Hills’ Link Crew, the second-year program that offers upperclassmen opportunities to mentor incoming freshmen through various activities, such as on freshman orientation day before the school year starts, social events and final exam study sessions.
All returning and new Link Crew members must attend a two-day summer training held on campus or else they cannot serve as a mentor. The Accolade asked Morales, who is also a staff photographer, to reflect on what it’s like to be at the training sessions.
However, Link Crew coordinator Lindsay Safe has asked that members not divulge specific details of what happens during those two days, So instead, Morales shares her overall experience of what originally led her to join Link Crew and how being a mentor has shaped the person she is today.
As I headed toward the end of my sophomore year, I began to notice signs all over the school saying, “Join Link Crew: a high school transition program that welcomes freshmen and makes them feel comfortable throughout the first year of their high school experience.”
At first, I couldn’t help but think: “Sacrificing my own precious time for freshmen? Why didn’t my class have something like this when I entered high school?” But after setting my pride aside, I thought to myself that this was something that I had never done before but something worth trying. So, I applied and got in.
I remember my very first training day. I came to school during summer break on a Saturday at 8 a.m. and waited patiently for instructions. Little did I know that we’d spend a majority of the day playing games and breaking the ice to be more comfortable with my peers.
And then we got to the real work. I learned how to speak to the students who would walk onto the school campus for the first time in their lives, not knowing where anything was — maybe not even knowing a single person. I mastered five different tasks that I would use on orientation day.
On my very first orientation two years ago, I couldn’t help but feel nervous to meet the freshmen. I continuously pondered whether I was ready to welcome 10 new students to Sunny Hills.
Starting off, I led the kids to face a hurdle not alone, but with nine people by their side. We made sure everyone participated at least once to ensure that everyone had a voice.
Then, the other members and I focused on learning names. We are people—people with names and significance. Making sure our group is acquainted with one another allows freshmen to feel like they matter and strengthens the bonds we make. Thanks to this, once school started, we could find our kids and shout their names in the middle of the hallway. With this, they get to think, “Wow, I can’t believe they remember me.”
Before the day ended, we faced one last challenge together, which tested our focus and patience. Like many times in high school, we needed to get through something difficult. But this time, we forced ourselves to stop, think, listen and look at the bigger picture. We reminded our freshmen that no matter what direction they follow, we all go down a different path with setbacks along the way. The important part is to realize whom we can rely on and what we can do to be successful.
And as leaders who were once freshman suffering through the same terrors of the first day, we felt obligated to express our experiences in high school and in our own personal lives to our students. It’s hard going into freshman year. All the thoughts that go through your head: “What if none of my friends are in my classes?” “What if my teacher doesn’t like me?” “What if I took too many honors classes?”
As Link Crew leaders, we humble ourselves down in order to recount the struggles and fears we experienced and remind our group that just because something seems scary, it doesn’t mean it has to be an obstacle.
By the end of orientation, I hugged my group goodbye and left with a warm feeling, knowing that I had made high school a little less scary for them.
But Link Crew didn’t end after we said goodbye to our group. With the help of our class who planned each event and activity, we maintained our connections throughout the entire school year through little gestures, such as Valentine’s Day gifts, games or random messages of encouragement.
As the year went by, I continued to see the impacts of Link Crew and quickly recognized that I was part of something that was bigger and way different than anything else I had been associated with on campus. I realized that, although I didn’t have this kind of support when I was a freshman, it didn’t mean that it was right for me to keep this opportunity from someone else. Suddenly, I didn’t think of this work as a waste of my time, but rather an opportunity to provide support and kindness across campus.
Link Crew is a group of driven individuals with one common goal: to help. Our desire to give back to our campus sets us apart from many of the other groups. From playing games with our class to leading our freshmen, we are constantly breaking down personal barriers and helping our school grow closer together, which is something high schools desperately need.