October 19, 2011
Link Crew conference produces energy, ideas
High school students learn ways to help freshmen make the transition from middle school
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Link Crew leader Emile Lawless, right, of Ithaca High School, leads his group, from left, Nikea Ulrich, of Homer, Hannah Franceschelli and Courtney Carr, both of Cortland, around the Cortland High gymnasium Tuesday during a role-playing exercise.
Regan Ealey found himself surrounded Tuesday morning by 229 other high school students who, like him, are Link Crew members who help freshmen make the transition from middle school.
The Cortland High School junior played Big Momma in a group of four students, getting 30 seconds to choose an activity for them to do. He told them to run to a basketball hoop in the high school’s Shafer Gymnasium, jump and tap the hoop.
Then Michael Lavere of Homer, another group member, was Mack Daddy. He told the other three to form a pyramid. Then Cortland junior Will Brown and Oneonta High School junior David Tannenbaum had their turn, as other groups hugged each other, ran up into bleachers, or ran with arms out like wings.
The Link Crew conference brought together about 230 juniors and seniors from Cortland, Homer and eight other schools, the first time such an event has been held in the area. They spent four hours doing exercises that let them get to know each other and gathering ideas to use in their schools.
Ealey said he enjoyed meeting so many students and hearing ways to know the eight freshmen he will work with this year. He said a couple of years ago, he was a “bad kid” who would have not bothered with something like Link Crew.
“My girlfriend ... helped me turn around, and I promised my brother Corey that I’d change, before he died of brain cancer two years ago,” Ealey said. “All these kids here, I would never have been friends with them. Now this helps me talk to those bad kids, like I used to be.”
Homer junior Alexi Settineri said the event was inspiring, as she learned new ways to “get out there and get more personal with my freshmen.”
The students brainstormed ideas for talking to freshmen and keeping in touch with them through the school year.
Cortland had 40 students, out of the 70 in its Link Crew. Homer and the other schools had up to 20 each. Most were juniors.
The other six schools were Livonia, Oneonta, Webster, Ithaca, and Pittsford’s Mendon and Sutherland high schools. Their teacher advisors accompanied them and had their own meeting.
Led by Idaho resident Geoff McLachlan of Boomerang Project, representing the national Link Crew organization, the students eagerly talked to each other once they were pulled out of their school groups.
One series of exercises put them in groups of eight and let them try exercises spelling “SPACE” — seek, personalize, approach, challenge and expand.
“Seek” had the students think of questions they might ask a ninth-grader, then ask each other. Questions included whether the freshman liked every class, was struggling with any classes, liked high school better than middle school.
The “personalize” exercise had them pair up back-to-back, then change three things about their appearance and see if their partner could identify those things. Then they changed nine more things.
The idea was to see what might be different about a freshman as the weeks go on — clothing, hairstyle — and compliment them on it, to make sure the Link Crew member pays attention.
The “approach” exercise had the students try hot, cold and just right ways of interacting — too eager, too cool and then somewhere between.
McLachlan asked what the “just right” approach might be. The students said smile, make eye contact, give the freshman a firm handshake.
The “challenge” idea had Link Crew members break the hallway monotony with a challenge, such as thumb wrestling — trying to pin down the other student’s thumb with your own thumb. Students suggested a ninja game, pokes, secret handshakes.
Ithaca High School junior Emile Lawless said his school, with 1,600 students, is both large and diverse, with students from across the world.
“What we’re doing here, these icebreakers, is what Link Crew is,” Lawless said. “You try to give freshmen confidence, a jump start. Our school is very diverse but for me it’s just the norm. There are some tensions but normally it works out.”
Homer senior Evan Alexander and Cortland junior Justin Sidebottom said they had gained a great deal. Homer has a Link Crew for the second year while Cortland is in its fifth year.
“It’s nice to see kids from all over Central New York and share our experiences,” Alexander said.
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