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Monique Flores & Ann Jensen: Western High’s Link Crew

Program fosters freshman connection
Link Crew members Juanis Garcia, Kymm Maniscalco, Monique Flores, Ann Jensen, Jaime Flores and Lauren Herrick.

2018 Innovators, Anaheim Secondary Teachers Association

Kevin Esquivel, a freshman at Western High School in Anaheim, is getting a “booster shot.” But instead of a nurse or needle, he sits down with two high school seniors who want to understand why he’s struggling academically and help him turn things around.

“I don’t pay attention,” Esquivel confides. He also admits to not doing homework or asking his teachers for extra help.

Kevin Esquivel listens as Link Leaders Jasleen Kaur and Ashley Dominguez give him advice.

“Communication with teachers is really important,” Jasleen Kaur, one of two “Link Leaders” on the Western High School Link Crew (WHSLC), tells Esquivel. “If you don’t understand something, talk to the teacher after class and see what you can do to improve.”

The other Link Leader, Ashley Dominguez, offers to accompany Esquivel to ask teachers for extra help. She shares time-management tips and suggests that he take notes and sit in the front of class to stay focused.


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These educators translate ideas, inventions and ways of doing things into something profound and often magical

Tricia Hyun, et al – English teachers find gamification a winner
Dan Frank – Manufacturing student success
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Jesse Barnett – Students use cameras to get in touch with the world
Rose Borunda – Changing the California Indian history narrative
GALA – All-girls STEM school builds equity and skill

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Studies show that whether or not students graduate from high school is largely determined during their freshman year. The transition from middle to high school is extremely challenging, because students have more responsibility combined with less supervision and less support.

WHSLC offers a unique approach to preventing freshmen from falling through the cracks. In addition to booster shots, it holds fun events like barbecues, ice cream socials, movie nights, football festivities and college visits. Its Link Leaders bond with freshmen to help them feel connected to their new campus. Leaders work to build trust with them, and share stories of how they overcame personal challenges during their first year of high school.

The program has been at the school for five years, and was implemented by members of the Anaheim Secondary Teachers Association (ASTA). A two-year grant from CTA’s Institute for Teaching, now in its second
year, has allowed the program to flourish. World history teacher Monique Flores and Link Crew leadership class teacher Ann Jensen, both of whom wrote the grant and oversee the program, are among six founding members. Fellow ASTA members who currently work with WHSLC include two founding members, PE teacher Jaime Flores and English teacher Juanis Garcia, along with science teacher Lauren Herrick and special education teacher Kimberly Maniscalco.

“I love seeing link leaders develop leadership skills and become more empathetic and compassionate human beings.”
—Ann Jensen

All freshmen at the school are assigned Link Leaders. Most leaders attend Jensen’s class, and participate in a five-day summer training. They work in pairs that mentor and monitor six freshmen, ensuring they are adjusting to high school. Link Leaders are not tutors or counselors; they are a support system that offers encouragement and connects freshmen to resources. If Link Leaders feel a student is in crisis, they share their concerns with adults.

Student Tiffany Shyirakera talks about her experience with Link Crew.

“We train them to turn a negative situation into a positive, growth mindset and to have positive conversations with freshmen,” says Flores. “It’s working out really well.”

Link Leaders suggest freshmen get involved in sports and extracurricular activities, because if they find something they enjoy, it motivates them to keep their GPA up so they can participate. Many leaders are involved in extracurricular activities themselves. However, Link Leaders are not just
the popular kids, athletes and school leaders. Many have had their share of struggles and challenges, and that’s fine with Flores and Jensen, who want the peer mentors to be relatable.

They are already seeing positive results from WHSLC. Seventy-five percent of 2018 freshmen reported that Link Leaders had made a positive impact.

“We are definitely seeing an increase in school spirit,” says Jensen. “We are seeing our freshmen taking an interest in things in a way we weren’t seeing before.”

“As an educator for 16 years, this is one of the most satisfying things I have ever done,” says Flores. “I feel very strongly about this program with my heart and soul.”

Flores and Jensen were surprised to discover that Link Leaders benefit as much as the freshmen.

“These mentors are gaining real-world experiences to plan and execute group events, seek out freshmen who are having problems and help them find solutions,” says Flores.

“I love seeing Link Leaders develop leadership skills and become more empathetic and compassionate human beings,” says Jensen. “It increases their maturity level.”

John Cho was mentored as a freshman and is now a Link Leader in his junior year. “When I was a freshman I didn’t have a lot of friends the first few months and felt hollow and unconnected to other people,” he says. “But then the Link Crew reached out to me, and I no longer felt out of place. So now I enjoy returning the favor.”

Angelica Campos was extremely shy as a freshman and didn’t feel comfortable talking to her peers or teachers. Being assigned a mentor and becoming one herself boosted her confidence.

“I see myself in the students we work with,” says the junior Link Leader. “And I can talk to people without freaking out anymore.”

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