The mentors try out an activity that they'll share with their freshmen next week.ALTON - Alton High School has implemented a program that aims to ease the transition into high school by pairing freshmen with an upperclassman mentor.

The program, called Link Crew, is used in high schools around the world to provide play-based mentorship to ninth graders. At Alton High School (AHS), the upperclassmen will meet with their group of freshmen every month to chat about both academic and social challenges.

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“What’s super important to me about this is with our incoming freshmen, they’re going to actually have someone — a peer — that they can go to, that they can converse with about different social issues that are happening or academic issues that are happening that they don’t necessarily feel comfortable with talking to adults about,” Amy Golley, the district’s Educational Equity Coordinator, said. “So that bonding or that relationship that they’re going to build is going to be really important.

Assistant Principal Naj Citrowske introduced the program to AHS last semester. She explained that attendance has been down in the last few years, and students everywhere struggle with transitioning from middle school to ninth grade. But the Link Crew program has a “proven track record” of helping students feel more comfortable in the high school setting while also decreasing truancy and behavioral issues.

Citrowske will oversee the students and four teachers who are heading Link Crew. The teachers applied for the positions in February and underwent intensive three-day training this summer. Now, they’ve been training approximately 100 juniors and students to be mentors.

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“We really worked hard to select kids who are going to bring a huge cross-section of the student population,” April Gray, an English teacher at AHS, explained. “They wanted to help and make a difference, not just in the lives of freshmen, but in the school culture as a whole.”

Gray added that she watched her own kids go through high school and experience different challenges during the transition. She hopes the Link Crew program can add an extra layer of support for freshmen, which is why she was eager to get involved when Citrowske asked for volunteers.

“Being a parent, when I came across this program, I was like, ‘Oh, wouldn’t that have been so phenomenal to have these upperclassmen mentors who don’t just do the assembly and the orientation, but they really check in?’” Gray said. “And then also being an educator in the school, a lot of times you see this division between upperclassmen and underclassmen…I feel like it’s so crucial for them to [build relationships with each other] just to create a positive environment at school for all the students who are here. So I saw it as a chance to be a part of the change.”

Aug. 17 is the first day of school for Alton Community Unit School District 11, and the mentors will be waiting to meet their freshmen. The teachers and administrators are excited to welcome students back to class.

“Alton School District is the best,” Golley said. “I want people to know that.”

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