COVID-19 health guidelines force Link Crew to welcome freshmen via Zoom instead of live orientation on campus

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Image used with permission from Julia Hur.

Then-junior Daniel Magpayo (center) gives instructions to Krystopher Bagunu (left) and Leoni Nguyen, then juniors, in the gym during the Aug. 6, 2019, Link Crew freshman orientation. For the 2020-2021 school year freshman orientation, Link Crew had to resort to meeting with freshmen through the Zoom meeting platform because of COVID-19 health and safety guidelines.

Michelle Sheen

After three years of holding freshman orientation on campus before the start of the school year, Link Crew had to resort to a virtual one that attracted 450 students to meet COVID-19 health and safety guidelines.

“Zoom meetings were nerve-wracking for us as we had to make connections, train and get to know each other through play-type activities — all while not knowing what could go wrong,” Link Crew co-coordinator Cristian Bueno said. 

The Boomerang Project, a student transitioning program from which Link Crew stems from, made changes to the curriculum to accommodate online orientation for the Class of 2024. The organization added nine new activities to the program because the previous ones that are usually done in person couldn’t be incorporated in a Zoom virtual platform, said assistant principal Sarah Murrietta, another Link Crew co-coordinator.

Prior to the Aug. 6 orientation, Bueno and Murrietta along with the third co-coordinator, yearbook adviser Lindsay Safe, provided the 96 Link Crew junior and senior leaders with training that lasted a total of five hours. Over the course of two days, from July 30-31, the coordinators held Zoom meetings that lasted two hours and 30 minutes each to instruct and prepare leaders for the orientation, Bueno said.

The coordinators’ first challenge was finding time in their days to train, as they only had Safe, Murrietta and Bueno to hold the meetings. Hosting so many Zoom meetings was a lot of work, but the coordinators were glad it worked out in the end, Bueno said.

“Meetings through Zoom will never replace in-person activities,” Murrietta said. “But the Link Crew leaders were amazing, and everyone did a great job.”

During the noon-2 p.m. orientation, six or more freshmen were assigned to a group with two Link Crew leaders, and each group played a total of nine games, Link Crew leader junior Patrick Jimenez said.

One activity was sharing a list of useful advice compiled by the upperclassmen that the freshmen could use during their time at Sunny Hills, Jimenez said.

Jimenez said that some of the advice the leaders came up with to help freshmen for distance and hybrid learning were the following:

  • “If your audio doesn’t work, try taking out your headphones or restarting. If it still doesn’t work, you can email … Sonya Joyce for a new chromebook.”
  • “Listen to positive peer pressures like studying and ignore negative peer pressures like skipping school and doing drugs.”
  • “Keep your usernames and passwords in a safe place so you don’t waste class time looking for them.”

Some of the freshmen who participated also touted the games that were played during the session.

“My favorite game was the one where we chose a letter and number that correlated to a question we had to answer,” freshman Maddie Guzman said. “I feel like that game allowed everybody to know each other better.” 

Although the orientation didn’t have any major problems, everyone in the Zoom platform did face some technical challenges.

“My screen, as well as others’ blacked out a couple of times,” Guzman said. “Fortunately, my problem was dealt with immediately, which allowed me to continue.”

These students were advised to exit their breakout rooms and return to the main room, where the coordinators reassigned them to their original groups as a way to solve the black screen issue, she said. 

Bueno also said she had found her biggest struggle to be trying to figure out how she and the other coordinators would run the Zoom session with so many students involved and how they would solve any technical issues.

Despite Bueno’s concerns, the technical difficulties were solved quickly during the orientation.

For example, when students had trouble getting into breakout rooms, they were told to memorize which room they were in and to disconnect and reconnect back into the Zoom, Jimenez said. 

Although this year’s orientation was different from the traditional in-person one, students and teachers alike generally expressed satisfaction with the experience.

“The Link Crew leaders were great at communicating with everybody,” Guzman said. “They were very welcoming, which made my experience a lot more enjoyable and less intimidating.”

Freshman Nathan John Leopaldo also found his experience at the orientation to be more enjoyable than expected. 

“I think I’ve learned to be open-minded about new things,” he said. “Going into the Zoom meeting, I was a little nervous, but in the end, I really enjoyed [it].”

Jimenez said he found his Link Crew group to be well-behaved and interactive, which was different from what he had expected.

“It’s really easy for someone to mess up the Zoom meeting, but they were really cooperative,” he said. “Almost all of the kids were participating and having fun so I was really happy with that.”

Though she had some concerns about how the Zoom would go, Bueno said she was glad with the outcome of the online orientation.

Our leaders gave it their all, and our freshmen were great through it all,” she said. “It takes guts to show up when you don’t have to, but the freshmen chose to invest their time and effort, and it truly shows they already have the Lancer spirit.”