"I was really nervous and anxious."
Tyson Rodgers remembers what it was like to be a freshman entering Cherokee Trail High School for the first time.
"I felt lost, scared," Rodgers recalls. "Everything's new, everyone else is older, more mature than you are, so I was just scared."
Esther Eikins experienced similar feelings when she started her ninth-grade year at CTHS.
"I was really anxious because it was a whole new school and I didn't really know that many people here because I came from a middle school that's kind of far away," Eikins said.
But fortunately for Eikins, Rodgers and other incoming ninth-grade students, there is something called Link Crew.
"Link Crew is designed to help freshmen become part of the culture of the school," said English teacher Alan Martin, one of five staff members who sponsor the CTHS Link Crew program. "We want to help them feel they are a part of the school, to have some sort of contact and to know that they're not alone."
Link Crew is a national program that trains upper classmen as Link Crew leaders, who then mentor small groups of freshmen and help them make a successful transition into high school. The goal of the program is to help freshmen get connected to their school community and involved in school activities, whether that is sports, clubs or simply attending school events. Research shows that if students have a positive experience their first year in high school, their chance for success increases dramatically.
The Link Crew program made a powerful and lasting impression on Rodgers, who is now a senior and a Link Crew leader.
"I remember my Link Crew leaders from when I was a freshman," Rodgers said. "I really liked both of them, so I want to make the same impact that they had on me."
"My Link Crew leader made it a lot less nerve-wracking for me," said senior Jake Barber, who is also a Link Crew leader this year. "He made it a lot more fun."
Nearly 150 CTHS upperclassmen applied last spring to be Link Crew leaders during the 2017-18 school year. The 112 students who were selected went through one day of training in the spring, and two days of training the week before school started. Senior Sarah Case is in her second year as a Link Crew leader.
"I did it to help establish a community environment within CT and put the nerves of the freshmen at ease," said Case, who added that the sheer size of Cherokee Trail can be overwhelming. "We have about 3,000 students and that can be kind of intimidating, especially during passing periods."
In early August, Link Leaders are paired up and each pair is assigned a group of 12 to 15 freshmen. The leaders reach out to the students in their group before school starts. They make phone calls or send text messages introducing themselves and inviting students to the freshman barbeque that was held Aug. 10. Then on Aug. 11, the Link Crew leaders guide the incoming students through freshman orientation. See more photos from CTHS Link Crew Leader Training and Freshman Orientation on the Cherry Creek Schools Facebook page.
"We just make them feel more comfortable with everything that's going to go on and help them understand that everyone here is just trying to learn," Barber said. "We're all in it together."
During orientation, the Link Crew leaders take their group on a tour of the school and spend time helping the students get to know them and each other.
"It's kind of cool, especially with the upper classmen helping us and teaching us things that they know," said freshman Beau Baldensperger, who attended an online school last year.
"It's really cool to get to know people and to know that they're there for me when I don't have anybody because I don't know anyone here," added Symphanee Allen, who comes to CTHS from a middle school outside the Cherry Creek School District.
After school starts, the Link Crew leaders continue to check in periodically with the students in their group. They'll ask how things are going, encourage the students to attend school events and help them find solutions to any problems that might come up.
"Sometimes as a freshman it's hard to find your footing in high school," said leader Esther Eikins. "I think it's cool when you have someone to help you and I just always wanted to be that person."