Merritt Secondary prepares welcome for 245 freshmen
With 245 students starting high school in Merritt next week, Merritt Secondary School staff and senior students are preparing a welcome that will ease their transition.
For the past eight years, MSS has offered students a Link Crew orientation — a high school transition program designed to welcome freshmen and make them feel comfortable at their new school — and MSS teacher Shannon Dunn says with two incoming grades this year, the program is even more important.
“The program is all about linking your older students who have proven themselves to be successful at high school with some of the incoming students,” she said. “It’s going to be a very important year to link these kids to make sure they are successful.”
Because of the School Board’s decision to close Coquihalla Middle School, MSS will be accommodating incoming students in grades 8 and 9.
On the first day of school next Tuesday, new students will be broken into small groups and paired with a senior student for an orientation assembly. They will be in these groups for lunch as well as afternoon activities that will follow their classroom rotation.
But their first contact with these student mentors will take place before school begins through a phone call.
“We have the senior students phone the incoming students and welcome them to the school,” said Dunn. “This allows them to make a connection and all of a sudden they feel like they belong.”
Mentors will contact the new students again at the end of the week, either in person or by phone, to find out how the first week went and then several times throughout the year to invite them to special activities for first year students including dances and movie nights.
“It’s all about connecting those leaders and new students,” said Dunn. “We try and get them connected at least eight or nine times during the year.”
Dunn said the program is based on research that shows that students can help other students to succeed.
“Once they have a connection there are lower drop off rates, and less children skipping school,” she said. “I believe the more you’re involved in the school community, the more you’re going to want to stay there. And that’s what we’re trying to do — get them to stay to their grad year.”
The Link Crew program has been implemented at high schools across North America and according to the website www.boomerangproject.com schools have recorded positive changes because of the program. Apollo High School in Arizona recorded a 50 per cent reduction in freshman truancy, and Atwater High School in California recorded a 30 per cent reduction in freshman failures and a 15 per cent reduction in freshmen absences within the first semester.
Around 35 students in grades 11 and 12 will be trained as Link Crew mentor this week. These are students who have been recommended by teachers or counsellors and are usually fairly involved with the school through sports teams, band and other clubs, said Dunn.
One of the new mentors, Kaitlyn Suzuki, is a grade 11 student who experienced the program as a grade 9 student. She recalls that it was nice to have someone reach out to her.
“[The program] helped me to get to know some of the people in the school,” she said. “Even the people in my grade, because in CMS we were in teams and you didn’t really know the people who weren’t in your teams.”
Suzuki says the orientation also helped her to feel comfortable and she’s looking forward to helping the new students.
“I think it will be neat to help out the new kids — especially the new grade 8’s,” she said. “A lot of them are nervous because they expected to have more time to get ready for high school.”
Suzuki is a member of the student council and she participates in several sports teams including the basketball, volleyball and soccer teams.
“I think the program is really helpful for the new kids. It makes them feel at home and when you feel at home, you are more willing to participate in other things at the school.”