Link Crew is a mentoring program designed to shepherd freshmen through the first year of high school. Incoming freshmen partner with Link leaders, juniors and seniors who offer encouragement, camaraderie, and practical advice. This year we’ll check in with freshmen and Link leaders to show how the program works at KIS. First, meet Brian and Kim Bunting, two KIS educators who brought Link Crew to KIS fall 2014.
Brian teaches high school math and Kim teaches high school science. When their principal, Don Drake, asked them to lead Link Crew, Brian and Kim learned about the program, attended training, and returned to KIS excited to recruit Link leaders. The training was “positivity overload” and Kim could imagine how a mentoring program might be one way to enrich the high school community as students crossed grade levels to form friendships. The risk was asking students to set aside a hierarchical social structure and approach one another simply as peers. Brian and Kim found their first group of Link leaders, opening the leadership opportunity to sophomores too.
Rapport is absolutely necessary, the Buntings agree. At their previous school in New York City, both understood the value of meeting students where they are, of being open and approachable. Brian brings a lot of energy to his room, surprising students with a jump onto a desk to teach. But his room is also comfortable, even cozy, with clustered desks and alternate seating. Kim has a sense of humor and is self aware as she teaches. Her students know she is available when they have a question, and when a student speaks, she listens before replying. Both Buntings have a knack for organization. Their content areas require them to be meticulous, and that trait was also necessary to their Link Crew work.
Freshman orientation requires a ton of energy. Brian and Kim worked closely with their crew of Link leaders to model and practice confidence. How do you cultivate leadership abilities? How do you be outgoing? That was the challenge of the first years, to help Link leaders develop the security to be open and approachable. Brian and Kim understood they were asking a lot of their Link leaders: create a group dynamic in which all students can talk with one another. Push past the awkwardness of openness. And talk about more than grades! Kim says she liked seeing Link leaders learn to talk about more than their grades too. There is so much life in addition to schoolwork, and Kim watched the first Link leaders figure out how to navigate those deeper conversations with each other and with their freshmen groups. Students saw something working during that first year of Link Crew, and more volunteered as leaders during the second and third years.
Brian remembers first seeing relationships grow between freshmen and their Link leaders and realizing the difference the program was making, even to the hallway atmosphere. When he first arrived in Korea, Brian noticed underclassmen offering bows of respect to upperclassmen. While that respect remained, the mentoring relationship created a shift toward a shared goal: everyone wanted the freshmen to have a good first year of high school. One day Brian saw a freshman student joke around with his Link leader in the hall. Within the first years of the program, students were empowered to challenge the existing hierarchy, calling out inequality based solely on age. What this looks like today is eighth graders are excited to cheer on their freshmen friends at an afterschool volleyball game. And within high school clubs, underclassmen are as likely to lead as upperclassmen.
KIS is proud of Brian and Kim for establishing Link Crew in the high school. During the first years of the program, Brian and Kim were most proud of the relationship Link leaders had with one another, one of trust and fun that set the tone of Link Crew at KIS. And because Brian and Kim were enthusiastic and dedicated from the program’s start at KIS, Link Crew continues welcome and support students through the joy and challenge of freshman year.