Link Crew adjusts to virtual format

September 4, 2020 — by Esther Luan

A month before freshman orientation was held virtually on Aug. 12, this year’s Link Crew commissioners were already meeting to adjust their traditional introductory program to current circumstances, said senior Arnav Mangal, one of six commissioners.

On Aug. 11, commissioners taught the 88 Link Leaders how to lead freshmen through activities and informational modules. During the orientation the next day, leader pairs utilized Zoom breakout rooms to teach the material to small groups of freshmen. 

“Even at the beginning of the process, planning Link Crew virtually seemed like it would be really difficult,” said senior Lauren Tan, another commissioner. “We wanted to make sure we created an environment for all freshmen that was interactive, but we didn’t have a good gauge of how they would respond to an online orientation.”

The commissioners noted that it would be difficult to replicate the same welcoming atmosphere as an in-person orientation in the gym and around campus. To try to maintain its interactive nature, the team implemented new games and activities, like storytelling and personal fact-sharing games.

The new Link Crew coordinator, math teacher Lisa Ginestet-Araki, said the biggest challenge the commission faced was a lack of responsiveness from Link Leaders and freshmen alike. Students did not consistently check their emails, which hindered communication. 

On top of this, Link Leaders “lost interest and ignored their responsibilities” halfway through the program, Mangal said. To remedy this issue, commissioners made sure they had a team of leaders ready to fill in these empty roles.

Tan said the main complication on orientation day was sorting students into their correct breakout rooms. Tan said they would keep this in mind for future training in case similar virtual events or orientations are held virtually again.

Despite the difficulties the commissioners had to work through, Ginestet-Araki praised the final product for the Class of 2024.

“Our leaders did a fantastic job leading fun and informative activities,” Ginestet-Araki said. “They were able to engage their group members, which is very difficult to do from a virtual setting.”

Junior Kaylie Wong said that although her Link group had to overcome technical issues that delayed activities for more than 45 minutes, she was still glad she was able to provide her freshmen with an enjoyable orientation. 

Even under normal circumstances, keeping freshmen engaged is hard for Link Crew leaders, she said. With everything being moved online, Wong was concerned that group members would just mute themselves or move away from their computers during activities, but fortunately, she was able to engage them through activities.

“I remember having a lot of fun during my freshman orientation, so I wanted to make it special for them like what I had experienced,” Wong said.

Junior Lily Yang dealt with some engagement issues in her Link group but nevertheless felt she was ultimately able to connect with them.

“I talked to them about some middle school experiences, and they seemed more open afterwards,” Yang said. “We ended up going a bit over time because some of the kids were very engaged. It felt really rewarding.”

Mangal also said that the commissioners and leaders succeeded at getting the freshmen accustomed to school resources and working with Zoom. The freshmen learned valuable skills, such as operating Canvas, navigating the school’s website, submitting assignments in PDF form and emailing teachers courteously.

Despite the technical ups and downs of the day, Mangal said he was proud of the work the commissioners and Link leaders did. 

“I am very happy with the outcome and the fact that we were able to pull off a virtual orientation for over 300 new students,” Mangal said. “I’m looking forward to checking in often with my own Link kids this school year.”

 

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Due to the lightning complex that occurred in the week of Aug.17, Santa Clara County is currently surrounded by wildfires, covering the city of Saratoga in heavy smoke. The air quality was in the range of 100 to 200 for the past five days, forcing SHS to close down. Photo by Selina Chen.

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