About 280 Spring Grove Area High School freshmen were dead quiet inside the gymnasium.
It was exactly as planned.
The ninth-graders, all on their first day of school, were playing a game in the high school's Link Crew student orientation program. They had to get in line by birth date without saying a word.
It was just one of dozens of other group-bonding, get-to-know-you activities, all to lessen the anxiety of becoming the little fish in the high school pond.
Link Crew is a nationally-developed freshman transition program used at the start of school to help freshmen feel at ease and also pair them up with older mentors for the year.
Older students, serving as Link Crew leaders, led small group icebreakers, gave sage advice on how to get around the school, and mostly showed that they aren't so scary after all.
Although the games were silly, there was always a message.
"Some of you guys are going to take a few tries to figure out where you belong. Don't give up. Keep trying," said music teacher Dan Brenner, the program emcee. "I guarantee you there is a spot for you at Spring Grove Area High School."
While there were more than a few bewildered looks throughout the program, particularly by ninth-grade boys amazed that senior girls were hanging out with them, there was also a noticeable, growing sense of confidence.
That's Link Crew's goal, said Spring Grove officials. Susquehannock Senior High School first started using Link Crew in York County more than five years ago, and since then many county high schools have followed.
Spring Grove started last year and had great results. Principal Rosemary Cugliari said the school had "significantly" fewer class failures by freshmen last year than in recent years, and much of that is attributed to Link Crew.
An additional peer mentor program is also in place.
"Between the two I think we're catching all of them," Cugliari said.
Link Crew mentors were handpicked by staff and had to come in two days early to get trained.
"They gave up two days of summer vacation. They didn't get to wear that brand new outfit today. They wore a lime green T-shirt," Brenner told the freshmen. Brenner, Holly Baublitz and Steve Bischoe organized the Link Crew program.
Some of the student leaders said the sacrifice is worth it, knowing freshmen are getting the welcome they wish they had back then."I know what freshman year was like," said junior Jacob Simpson. "So if I can help them, I will."
"I was really confused and disoriented," added senior Melissa Staley of her freshman experience. She hopes Link Crew helps students make friends quickly.
It seems to be working. Ninth-grader Jacob Rappolot said he already has made new friends. And Latisha Bigelow, 13, said she had been worried about starting school, mostly because her older brother, an upperclassmen, had been teasing her about shoving her into a locker.
"I was terrified," Latisha said with a laugh. Now she knows some older students, such as Melissa, and thinks they'll have her back.
"They are really nice," she said.
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