Graphic illustration by Emma Constable and Anwen Huang
For the class of 2024, their entrance into high school will be like never before. Without traditional events that foster widespread school spirit and connections among classes, Lynbrook administrators, Link Crew and ASB are faced with yet another challenge of distance learning: implementing unconventional strategies to bring together this year’s freshmen.
Link Crew, an organization dedicated to welcoming new students onto campus, has many events for freshmen that are fundamental steps in their transition into high school. With staff coordinators and several student commissioners overseeing its operations, Link Crew’s activities center around forming connections amongst students of all grade levels and are led by teams of student Link Crew leaders.
In past years, freshmen typically filed into the gym, met their Link Crew leaders and toured the campus during Lynbrook’s annual freshman orientation. With its unique and personal small group activities, this experience helps freshmen break through their fears about transitioning into high school and facilitates bonding among themselves.
This year, however, the incoming class had a completely virtual orientation, and Link Crew student leaders were tasked with fostering connections with their freshmen over Zoom. Many activities that required in-person interaction, such as taking group pictures in matching costumes, had to be replaced with alternatives, like posing for screenshot pictures. Despite these challenges, Link Crew has succeeded in making many freshmen feel welcomed.
“[Orientation] was really nice because it let me meet new people that were going to be in my classes,” freshman Allison Wu said. “The Link Crew leaders were also really nice and comforting, and it helped knowing that I could go talk to them about my schedule or any problems I had.”
The process of coming up with alternative methods to welcome the class of 2024 began as early as April, and one of the major difficulties was adapting to the ever-evolving pandemic.
“The biggest challenge with planning was the unknown,” Link Crew coordinator Andrea Badger said. “Every time we planned something, something else changed.”
Working together, Link Crew coordinators and commissioners had to brainstorm ideas for all three possible scenarios: an entirely in-person orientation, a hybrid model and an entirely virtual one. It was not until July that a plan was finalized for a virtual orientation. Aside from the technical aspects, Link Crew also had concerns about the lack of in-person connections in a virtual environment.
“There is a worry, of course, that there’s only so much that can be done,” Link Crew coordinator Jeff Bale said. “One of the biggest issues is that lack of social connection, which is so devastating.”
Despite these obstacles, there are many plans geared toward connecting freshmen to the Viking community throughout the year, such as friendly competitions between Link Crew groups. The coordinators are optimistic that these ideas will help establish closer ties among the new class.
Another important aspect of the freshman experience involves Lynbrook’s many school-wide traditions, such as homecoming, rallies and Powerpuff. Organized by ASB, these exciting and much-anticipated events bring together staff and students alike, and the intense passion and collaboration that go into each event are vital for establishing unity within each class.
“It’s a good way to form connections when you’re participating in an event that’s bigger than yourself,” senior Vivek Iyer said.
For many of these events, the trust and strong relationships formed from working toward a shared goal create an important foundation for freshmen to grow alongside one another throughout the rest of high school. Building community has always been the primary goal of events such as homecoming, and even in a virtual setting, ASB continues to develop ideas that will help facilitate campus-wide connections.
“We want to try to make sure that students can be as active and as connected as possible in what we do,” ASB adviser Jason Lee said.
Modified versions of traditional events, such as a virtual week of welcome and club info day, will not only boost class spirit but also give freshmen the opportunity to begin forming these important connections. ASB also has other ideas in the works, but due to the ever-changing nature of the pandemic, these remain tentative. They plan to integrate feedback from the rest of the school for the success of new and future events.
Although these large-scale events may not become a reality this year, there will still be a multitude of opportunities for students to bond. Many clubs and organizations on campus will operate virtually, and the more intimate interactions they foster will help the incoming class explore shared passions. This year, ASB hopes clubs will work even harder to establish bonds between incoming students.
“Club officers should work on being active with their members, or potential members,” Lee said. “They should act as a resource to these students to make them feel like there is someone who cares and who wants to provide them with some sort of connection.”
In addition to ASB, Link Crew and clubs, freshmen can look toward their fellow Vikings for encouragement. With the lack of physical interactions, it is important that other students still make the effort to support the class of 2024. Even if it means taking a step out of their comfort zone, returning students are encouraged to check in on them.
Above all else, the freshmen have each other.
“Getting to know my classmates is really important because in a normal classroom environment, we would be talking to each other,” Wu said. “I think it would be really cool if we could have some activities just for students to get to know each other better and discuss classwork.”
Making the difficult transition into high school through a virtual learning environment is an unprecedented challenge for the class of 2024. However, as they work to connect with one another in new and unique ways, the hurdles presented by distance learning have the potential to create a unified freshman class stronger than Lynbrook has ever seen.