Bridging the gap: Link Crew leads freshmen, step by step


Tiffany Chang

Link Crew members Melody Yazdi (12) and Rigo Gonzales (11) demonstrate how to play the game “Zip, zap, zop” with Intro to Journalism teacher Whitney Huang’s freshman advisory on Sept. 1. Link Crew members visit assigned freshmen advisories once a month to relay advice, play activities and answer questions.

Have you ever wondered how freshmen learn their way around campus? How do they get to class on time, after over a year of online learning, no less?

Following a global pandemic and classes over Zoom, the newest batch of freshmen learn to navigate friendships, school meetings, long lunches and physics tests—but, as always, the upper school’s Link Crew is there to help them through the ups and downs of high school. 

Link Crew, founded at Harker in 2008, was created by current Middle School Division Head Evan Barth when he was the Upper School Academic Dean and upper school counselor Lori Kohan. It began as an effort to account for the growing number of new freshman students at Harker each year.

“When the Harker Upper School started, it was pretty small, and it kept getting bigger and bigger,” said Kelly Horan, Upper School Academic Dean and former Link Crew adviser. “As the school got bigger, the administrators saw a need to help the ninth-graders connect to and transition a little bit better into the upper school.”

As the years progressed, so did Link Crew. At its start, Link Crew had two student presidents who ran the club alongside faculty mentors. Now, the program takes on a much more community-based, holistic approach, where all Link Crew members have the opportunity to share ideas. 

It’s a completely new environment in the upper school, but Link Crew made me feel much more comfortable.

— Alex Zhong (9)

A significant amount of planning goes into the logistics of Link Crew. Junior and senior members meet in the spring with faculty advisers Katy Rees and Meredith Cranston to discuss plans for the next academic year, such as when to visit each advisory, adjustments that should be made from the previous year and activities to do with freshmen. 

“It’s a completely new environment in the upper school, but Link Crew made me feel much more comfortable,” Alex Zhong (9) said.

Link Crew isn’t a staple in just the Harker community—the high school transition program operates in schools all across the country and the world. The Boomerang Project, a Santa Cruz-based educational consulting company, created Link Crew in 1993. Since then, over 3,000 schools in 47 U.S. states, seven Canadian provinces and seven other countries have incorporated Link Crew into their community, and the program has had positive impacts both on schools nationwide and at Harker. 

“These kids haven’t been on a school campus since middle school and all of a sudden they’re given so much freedom, so many different expectations from teachers and faculty, so it’s really helpful to have a mentor there,” Daniel Wu (12), senior Link Crew member, said.

Members are chosen through a two-step process: students are first nominated by their advisors before completing an application detailing their interest in applying for Link Crew. Link Crew advisors take into consideration both an applicant’s willingness to participate as well as character.  Students apply at the end of their sophomore year to become a junior Link Crew member, and students accepted in their junior year need not reapply to become a senior Link Crew member.

“We really want to get a diversity of interests to honor the fact that we have a lot of personalities at Harker,” Horan said. “We want people who really want to connect right and nurture the little kids, so not everybody is a good fit. We’d rather have you put time and effort into it than just have it as another thing to put on an application.”

With one senior and one junior assigned to each freshman advisory, Link Crew members meet with the freshmen once a month to offer a broad range of guidance, from how to operate Schoology to time management strategies. 

Link Crew has helped me transition to high school by making me feel familiar with the campus.

— Aryana Bharali (9)

“Link Crew has helped me transition to high school by making me feel familiar with the campus,” Aryana Bharali (9) said. “Advice they gave that stood out to me was to sign up for a lot of clubs to see what you’re interested in.”

Link Crew’s purpose—to help freshmen adjust to high school—extends beyond acclimating the new upper school students to their physical surroundings. Mike Pistacchi, freshman advisor and biology teacher at the upper school, notes that Link Crew’s “inside knowledge” provides a unique and relatable perspective.

“I think they hear the seniors and juniors more than they hear me—what’s going on in school and how to survive,” Pistacchi said.

During the school year, Link Crew members hold lunchtime meetings once a month to plan activities for the next advisory. Moving from the online sphere back to in-person required significant work from both students and faculty. 

“We think that after what we’ve seen this year, advisory needs to be about something different and Link Crew shouldn’t be the people that come and tell them how stressful high school is,” Rees said. “Instead, we should be talking about all the positive aspects and helping them really have more balanced lives so that they can enjoy that aspect of high school.”

Additional reporting by Olivia Xu.