New PHS Link Crew will help freshmen stay 'linked in' to school

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PITTSFIELD — "Deadly silence" — that's the "most uncomfortable, awkward" scenario a new group of student leaders might face when trying to gear up a group of incoming freshmen during orientation at Pittsfield High School, school counselor Amy Higgins said.

For years, faculty members have been the predominant face of freshmen orientation programs there, with student volunteers playing a supporting role. This year, a new group of dedicated upperclassmen are stepping up to give first-year students a warm welcome to the school. To set the student leaders up for success, Higgins and a team of colleagues led a two-day training for them at the school this past Thursday and Friday, on everything from how to offer encouragement to leading a school tour and keeping participants' attention.

"Freshman year is the hardest, in my opinion," said Higgins. "This is a way for kids to help each other."

Freshmen orientation will take place from 7:30-10:30 a.m. this Wednesday, with activities based on a nationally-recognized program called Link Crew, a high school orientation and transition program developed by The Boomerang Project. Higgins said the effort to bring the Link Crew program to the high school was spurred by former principal, Matt Bishop, who supported the training costs for the faculty advisers and students.

"At the end of the day, I want the freshmen to feel connected to the building and feel, "there are people like me here." And, I want the older students to realize their own potential as leaders," Higgins said.

Over the course of the two training days, she said she saw some of the upperclassmen speaking up and taking initiative during activities, and learning to work with classmates that they don't normally interact with.

More than 100 rising juniors and seniors applied via essays to be a part of the inaugural PHS Link Crew, with some 50 making the cut and taking part in the summer training.
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Higgins said she and her advising team chose students from different backgrounds who could demonstrate a strong sense of "commitment and kindness."

"We didn't just want the overachievers. We wanted kids who have different stories to tell," Higgins said.

"I kind of wish there was something like this when I was a freshman," said senior A.J. Moore. "I struggled my freshman year, fitting in and finding my way around."

It took him a week, he said, to orient himself with the building. Eventually Moore tried out for various sports teams and from the older athletes found some guidance — something he strives to provide in helping the new students feel connected to the school. "This year, new kids can come in and get to know each other more and know us," he said.

Aliyah Heideman, a junior, remembers her first year of high school. While she grew up in the Pittsfield public school system, she first went to McCann with an interest in studying metal fabrication.

"I had to make all new friends that year," she said.

At the end of that year, she made the decision to return to Pittsfield and enroll at PHS. During her sophomore year, she discovered a new passions, including theater and Spanish Club, and helping other kids.

"You have to be yourself, do what you want to do and go for your dreams," she said.

Asked for additional advice for new students, Moore suggested "asking for help rather than struggling," and getting a tutor if extra help is needed.

Junior Dakota Robitaille said she struggled with balancing school life and home life during her freshman year. "You have to learn to separate the two," she said.

Robitaille, Moore, Heideman and junior Sophia Contini all highlighted the importance of getting involved.

"You can meet different kids," Contini said.

Moore thinks it's important to get to know different kinds of people in the school.

"I think it makes the school environment overall a better place," he said.


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