HORSHAM >> A chilly 44 degree morning was no match for about 40 dancing Hatboro-Horsham students lining the entrance to their school’s main gymnasium ready to party. With music blasting, they helped kick off the return of the Student Link Crew Conference to their school Oct. 26.
The level of enthusiasm at 8 a.m. was infectious to say the least, as the teen hosts offered high-fives and a warm welcome to the more than 200 students and their advisers who were in attendance for the conference, which included representatives from Perkiomen Valley, Pennridge, Souderton Area, Cardinal O’Hara, Conestoga Valley and Boyertown Area school districts.
Once inside the heavily decorated gym filled with balloons and banners, students circled together into small groups and began the four-hour program that encouraged the development of leadership, empathy, problem solving, communication and team building skills through games, laughter, conversation and lots of cheering.
Link Crew, a high school transition program, is composed of student leaders and positive role models who, as mentors, guide freshman to discover what it takes to be successful during the transition to high school. Link Crew has been shown to have a strong impact on freshman success as it’s been implemented in over 5,000 schools in 47 states, seven Canadian provinces and eight other countries worldwide since its founding over 20 years ago.
Link Crew co-founder Micah Jacobson worked with the more than 200 students in attendance at Hatboro-Horsham, leading games, activities and thought-provoking discussions designed to break the ice and encourage students to learn from each other on how to help freshmen make the best of their first year of high school.
This was the second time the district hosted the conference and the third time it’s been held in the area, said Hatboro-Horsham Link Crew co-adviser Vanessa DeLuca.
“We put so much work into that first day that there’s sometimes a letdown after that,” she said. “So this is a way to revisit our mission and really make sure that they understand it wasn’t just about the first day of school. It’s a year-long process. We really believe in kids helping kids succeed. That’s what we believe in. That’s what we do.”
Jim Shields, Hatboro-Horsham co-adviser, said students picked to become Link Crew members are typically very extroverted, outgoing students to begin with. The goal of the program is to help create a school culture where every student feels welcome and is excited to be there.
“What you saw today, the energy and all that, that’s what we want our schools to be and we have to model that,” he said.
Keith Valley Middle School teacher Stephanie Keene, who runs the Web program, which is a Link Crew program for younger students, said the two programs create a culture of caring people who will go out of their way to help others feel included.
“It happens in the hallways. It happens in their interactions,” she said. “Just this lack of fear to talk to someone that they don’t know. To include someone that might not feel included right away. And it allows them to step outside their comfort zone really easily and create that community of caring students and people, human beings. It’s really awesome. This is my first time coming to the Link Crew Conference, but I can automatically see how it’s affecting our student population here at Hatboro-Horsham.”
Jacobson had nothing but praise for Hatboro-Horsham for setting the right tone for the day from the start.
“I’ve got to give hats off to Hatboro-Horsham,” he said. “You lay out a vision of how you want kids to treat each other, about how you want to be welcomed, about how you want the energy level to be, about what you think is possible when kids get past that sense of fear that kind of holds us all back from smiling, laughing, enjoying our lives together. And Hatboro-Horsham this morning is doing absolute perfection.”
Students said they learned a lot from the program and were eager to apply what they learned at the conference to their individual freshmen.
“Talking to other Link leaders, they go out of their way to talk to their freshmen,” said Hatboro-Horsham junior Tori Burns, 16, “and I can do that too every day when I see them.”
“It’s really cool to interact with other leaders,” said Lauren Margolis, 17, a senior at the school, “and get tips from them on how they work their own Link crews.”