There was much energy flowing in the banquet room at Spectacular Events in Isanti on Aug. 24 at the onset of the final Link Crew workshop.
Cambridge-Isanti teacher and Link Crew co-coordinator Clint Lundeen led chants and team-building exercises like a polished motivational speaker as the group prepared to welcome this year’s Cambridge-Isanti High School freshmen on the first day of school.
“How engaged you are on that opening morning is so important. I mean, everybody needs to be participating at a high level–being energetic,” rallied Lundeen to the army of student leaders seated in front of him.
On Sept. 6 at CIHS, the incoming freshmen will begin their day by walking through a friendly gauntlet in the gym comprised of Link Leaders, teachers and staff. A large group meeting is then broken into small pods of six-to-eight students per Link Leader for 3 1/2 hours of activities. Lunch follows, and then it’s freshmen orientation in the Performing Arts Center. Lastly, the leaders take their groups on a tour of the school via a mock schedule to familiarize the freshmen with their classrooms.
Nicole Bielick is senior commissioner on the Link Crew. She was asked to describe the program’s benefits she remembers from her freshman year.
“Well, I came from Isanti, and I was a little freaked out by that first day of high school. My Link Crew leaders helped my get to know people and feel more comfortable with the environment,” she recalled. “The first day was so fun for me, and I met a person who became my best friend. I just think this program helps everybody so much.
“Last year as a Link Leader, I got to be part of our team game which was a balloon-popping contest through hugging. It was so fun to see the looks on the guys’ faces: ‘Oh, I get to hug her!’ That’s been a memorable Link moment for me.”
“The idea of the program is to help the freshmen feel like they are part of the high school,” explained Jackie Swanson, the other Link Crew co-coordinator. “And what we’ve seen in our high school is less fights in the hallways, there’s been more camaraderie between the lower classmen and the upper classmen. And we’ve seen a lot more kids at school social events, whether they be athletic events or plays or things like that.”
Swanson says there’s a good match between Link Crew and District 911’s utilization of the “Rigor, Relevance & Relationships” program, with a particular tie-in to the “relationship” portion of that philosophical teaching tool.
Students who land on the Link Crew are either nominated by teachers or have applied to the program. Swanson said over 246 students applied for the 96 positions last spring.
“It’s a rigorous interview process they have to go through,” she said.
Building leaders stay connected through the school year
Lundeen and Swanson went to Link Crew training five years ago, then they go to refresher courses to help them stay up on things and keep motivated to do a good job.
“The huge focus of the workshops is making the students awesome leaders and what it takes to do that,” said Lundeen. “So it’s not only giving them the material they need to talk with the freshmen, but also what it takes to be a leader: the energy you need, the skills you need, how to handle situations when they come up and how to positively steer someone if they are having a rough day.
“So that’s what I try to model when I’m doing the training, too.”
Link Crew is a year-round program, with the Link Leaders staying connected with their pod of freshmen through the months. The last term begins the gearing-up for the next school year with a workshop in May, then the two preparation workshops are held in late August. Also a portion of the Link Crew will help set up the gym with posters and more details on Labor Day night.
“One of the cool things is just doing our workshops at Spectacular Events, making it like an amazing experience for the leaders. It costs us a little bit of money, and we would love to find ways to fund-raise to keep supporting the program,” continued Lundeen. “I am so thankful the kids do such an amazing job, and that we have the support from staff members for this program.”
Jonathan Wells, also a senior Link Crew commissioner, may have been a little more familiar with CIHS than a typical freshmen since he participated in summer theater at the CIHS PAC his younger days and attended many concerts directed by his father, CIHS Choir teacher Frank Wells. But he still recalled several benefits to being a freshman participant with the Link Crew.
“Looking back at my freshman Link orientation, getting to know the people from Isanti through the small groups we had was very helpful. Then I really appreciated having a campus tour of the whole building to get used to where my classes were going to be, and know where my locker is– just knowing where all the nooks and crannies were was really helpful.
“I like being able to be a regular student at the school with my own friends and all that, but I also like having the opportunity to be a mentor. Throughout the year we Link Leaders will host events, like a tailgate party for a football game, a movie night, a freshmen breakfast. It keeps us connected.
– Photos & story by Greg Hunt