The very first day of high school can be intimidating to incoming freshman.Worries about location of classrooms, locker combinations, and mean upperclassmen mingle with the usual first-time jitters. These are exactly the kind of feelings that Middle Park High School wanted to avoid this year, leading to the implementation of a new program called Link Crew.The programLink Crew is designed as a transition program for students leaving middle school and entering high school. It's used in schools all over the nation, and involves not only incoming students, but upperclassmen and teachers as well.The basic goal of Link Crew is to "link" freshman with upperclassmen leaders who serve as guides, mentors, and friends throughout the year. These leaders attend two 6-hour trainings during the two days before the freshmen come in, planning activities and learning how to set their charges at ease.On Orientation Day, one day before regular school resumes, the freshman arrive on campus and are grouped into their Link Crews with 10 of their peers, led by two senior or junior class leaders. Events of Orientation Day include icebreaking activities, games, Q&A, and getting-to-know-you conversations.Even after the first day is over, Link Crew leaders maintain contact with their group on academic and social levels. The groups meet together each month, and fun after-school activities keep them interacting in positive ways.Administrative perspectiveRachel Memelink, a counselor at Middle Park High School, was one of several staff members who coordinated and oversaw the Link Crew program. "It was an incredible amount of planning and training," Memelink said. "It's pretty intense; it's go-go-go for six hours. They [the Link leaders] were exhausted at the end of the day."As coordinators, Memelink and her colleagues had to plan for both the training and the orientation, requiring additional hours and days of organization. "It was a lot of work, but a lot of fun," she said.Care was taken in choosing Link leaders, and placing freshman in their groups. Upperclassmen interested in the program filled out applications, which were then approved by the coordinators. Freshmen were placed in groups that required them to interact with and meet new people, rather than be with friends they already knew."My Link leaders, they're amazing," said Memelink. "I loved it. Seeing their personalities and their input, what they took from it, that was really, really cool."Memelink also mentioned that she noticed a difference in the atmosphere during this year's first day of school."You could feel it on the first day of school. There wasn't that anxiety from the freshman; you didn't feel that tension."The attitudes of the upperclassmen leaders were key components of the success of the program, Memelink said."If you throw out this positive element and enthusiastic energy, you really get back what you put in."Student perspectiveThe students involved in the Link Crew program gave their own perspectives on the experience."I did it not actually because I had a rough time my freshman year, but ... I didn't want that to happen to any of the freshman," said Dillon Baer, senior classman and Link Leader."I'm actually opposite," said fellow classman Ryan Powell, also a Link leader. "I did have a hard time my freshman year, [so] I thought I'd help the freshmen out."From the upperclassmen's end of the program, the goals focused on the perceptions and feelings of the incoming freshman."We should make them feel comfortable," Baer said. "Not tell them what to do or anything, but make them feel welcome.""If they have any problems, you don't want them to hold them in," Powell added. "Let them come talk to you about it."It turns out there was some nervousness on the end of the Link leaders as well, unsure how the freshmen would react to the group setting and activities planned. However, once things got started on Orientation Day, it all fell into place, they said."For me, the most fun was when we got them out of their shell, and the whole group would just join in a conversation," said Baer. "We'd start laughing about something, or everyone just came out and started talking to each other instead of just sitting there.""It was good to actually see them having fun," said Elly Zietz, senior and Link leader, "because I wasn't sure how well they would respond to the stuff we were having them do. It actually went better than I thought."'Loving school'Ashley O'Toole is a freshman this year, and shared her own thoughts about the Link Crew experience."It was pretty fun. I just moved here, so it helped me out a little bit to get to know some people," she said.The Link leaders were most adamant about the fact that they didn't want to be considered as teachers, but that their role should be rather as fellows or friends. "It was [about] actually getting to know them, and find interesting stuff about them," said Powell. "Getting to know their names, connecting to them, and having them talk to you."One parent praised the Link Crew program at a recent School Board Meeting, saying her freshman daughter reported a positive experience after the first day."She came home loving high school."