San Marino High School typically begins the year with a raucous event known as freshman orientation, a mass gathering that marks the first time the class’ members will congregate during what will hopefully be four years together on campus.
The words “raucous,” “gathering” and “congregate” in the above sentence ought to provide sufficient evidence that freshman orientation didn’t happen in its standard form when the school year began two weeks ago. Usually, the freshmen would engage in a short orientation, hear from some administrators, then split into small groups for a campus tour.
The assembly also would introduce the newbies to members of a pivotal club known as Link Crew.
In the third year of its second incarnation at SMHS — the club had a brief run at SMHS in the early 2000s — Link Crew is part of a nationally recognized, student-led leadership program that helps freshman ease into high school by providing a warm welcome.
Through the SMHS Link Crew program, freshmen are paired with the 60 junior and senior leaders who have been carefully selected to serve as role models, emphasizing strong relationships through activities that promote connection. Link Crew is built on the belief that students can help students succeed.
Like everything else associated with education, this year’s iteration of freshman orientation was held via a series of Zoom meetings, impeding an event that above all else thrives on interpersonal communication. Proving, however, that where there is a will there is indeed a way, and thanks to leaders like Erinn DeGuzman, Link Crew is off to another solid start.
“We haven’t missed a beat,” said teacher Courtney Rushing, one of three Link Crew advisers.
A junior, DeGuzman found the silver lining in what for students has become a seemingly unending front of thunderstorms.
“It’s pretty disappointing,” she said. “I know the kids would definitely have more fun if we had our introduction ceremony and activities on campus like usual, but it was not all that bad being online. Link Crew has been incredible so far. It is so much fun and a great way to socialize and meet new people. I also have learned how to be a good leader or mentor.”
DeGuzman said her participation in the group actually stemmed from a rough patch when she was in the 9th grade.
“When I was a freshman I had a bad experience, so this year becoming a Link Crew leader it has been my goal to give my kids the best experience possible,” she said.
Rushing praised DeGuzman for her approachability, willingness to always step up to help, and her “grace.”
“That is an old-fashioned term, grace, but that is what she is all about,” said Rushing. “Erinn is very welcoming, helpful and friendly. And that is what Link Crew is all about.”
Teacher Robbin Rae McCulloch, also a Link Crew adviser, said the virtual delivery brings opportunities along with the obvious challenges.
“I have been encouraging the leaders to not get frustrated and to embrace the situation,” McCulloch said. “It’s very impersonal, and all of the technical issues make it hard for the leaders to interact. But I just tell them to roll with whatever happens. Our connection with the freshmen is even more important now because they are not on campus with their peers.”
Rushing said the program is going “very well.”
“I was in on some of the calls and I saw really great energy,” she said. “I don’t know if the freshmen are more comfortable because they are in their homes or the leaders are more comfortable because they don’t have to be in front of a group of people, but it is going very well. The leaders have seen the need for Link Crew more any other year. They want to put the extra effort toward making this a great experience. They are putting forth a lot more emotional support because they know it is hard. All of our leaders were either a freshman or a new student here and they know how difficult it can be.”
DeGuzman and her co-leader, fellow junior Donovan Phan, have been assigned to a group of seven freshmen: Maya Borkar, Jack Fuerst, Kayley Huang, Sophie Lin, Chloe Pu, Calista Tan and Mikey Yessaian. When in-person schooling resumes, the group will meet on a regular basis and attend special events, which include holiday-themed celebrations and other gatherings. Leaders are also available for individual consultation.
DeGuzman said she highly recommends Link Crew and believes it teaches valuable leadership skills. She is also involved in Titanium Robotics and the track team and is trying to become a member of the High Schools Against Cancer club.
The daughter of Stephanie Amelang and Dale DeGuzman, Erinn has an older sister, Chenin, who graduated from SMHS and is a freshman at Pasadena City College. Erinn DeGuzman hopes to attend the University of Hawaii at Manoa and is considering careers in coding, nursing or teaching.