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CCI seniors provide link for new students

Link Crew matches incoming Grade 9 students at Collingwood Collegiate Institute to senior students to provide support, camaraderie and friendship

While the halls of Collingwood Collegiate Institute have been empty for most of the summer, they have been filled again this week with the voices of a special group of students preparing to welcome freshmen to the school.

The CCI Link Crew, made up of about 70 Grade 11 and 12 students, has been back in the school since Monday, and welcomed a new round of Grade 9 students on Wednesday who entered the school with trepidation, unsure of what they would find leading into their first official day of high school next week.

Natalie Skupchenko is starting Grade 11 and in addition to being on Link Crew, will also serve as student council president this fall.

“It’s really important because when we first came into high school, we didn’t get a normal Grade 9 year or orientation, and I think that may have affected some parts of our grade,” she said. “Everything’s fine now, but it’s a big part of the high school experience.”

Ashley Sparling, who is also starting Grade 11 and is also serving as part of Link Crew, agrees.

“We missed out. It made the change a lot scarier,” said Sparling.

Sherry Wyant, CCI teacher and faculty advisor, says for the past two years, Link Crew has been done as a virtual experience which had its limits. She said the program originally started in 2011.

“It’s just not the same. This is all about forming relationships and making kids feel welcome and bringing them into our community at CCI,” said Wyant. “The big thing about Link Crew is, we want to make a school where kindness is a cool thing.”

“It’s really important, especially this year, to build some of those relationships and let them just have fun together,” she said.

Over the years, Wyant says she’s heard plenty of stories where Link Crew had made a major difference in the student experience. She says there have been instances of students who joined a club or team based on their experiences that carried them through school, or students who have ended up serving on student council in their later years.

“When Link Crew members come to me to apply, the first thing they often talk about is how, on that first day they were so scared and so nervous, and having someone who knew their name and could be there for them and they could go to changed their life,” said Wyant. “They might not remember everything from that first day, but they remember feeling safe and that someone was there for them.”

Skupchenko says she wrote a big list of wisdom she’d like to impart to incoming students this year based on her experience.

“The people around you really influence who you are. Make sure you’re surrounded by good people,” she said. “Also, make sure you’re taking care of yourself – like sleeping enough, eating enough.”

The club is responsible for orientation activities to make new students entering Grade 9 feel welcome, but also maintains links with those students throughout their first year with any challenges they may face.

“It’s going to go by really quickly, so get involved as much as possible and really enjoy those first couple of years,” said Sparling. “Get to know everyone to help figure out who you are. Don’t worry about the work as much in Grade 9 and 10, because (that part) gets really serious in the last couple of years.”

Both Sparling and Skupchenko look forward to continuing to provide support to students in the fall.

“They can come to us with any questions. They have our emails as well,” said Sparling. “Helping other students is really fulfilling, especially because we didn’t get that.”

“We’ve only been here for two days, but I think it’s a really cool experience because the people that come to Link Crew are all really motivated. Everyone is here for the same thing,” said Skupchenko.

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Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen brings 13 years of experience to her role as reporter for Village Media, primarily covering Collingwood and education.
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