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High school looking to build successful links with freshmen

In a large school it is too easy for a student to get lost in the hustle and bustle of things. But officials in the Sunnyside School District are trying to do their best to ensure that doesn't happen.

What better way to start to build a strong foundation than with the incoming freshmen at Sunnyside High School, who are entering a strange, new territory.

To help address some of the issues incoming freshmen face, while trying to curb the significant dropout rate in the district, the high school is looking at building on the success of the already popular Link Crew with the development of the Grizzly Success Academy.

The newly developed Grizzly Success Academy, under the guidance of Heidi Hellner-Gomez, will be teaming with the Link Crew and its advisor Dave Martinez to offer freshmen a friendly face while helping guide them through their initial and roughest year of high school.

The Link Crew is a program at the high school where incoming freshmen are paired with juniors and seniors. The upperclassmen are assigned 10 freshman students to oversee and assist with different issues throughout the year.

"They are like the upperclassman buddy," said Martinez.

The Grizzly Success Academy will be adding a similar but different component to the Link program, utilizing adults within the high school to help assist in the transition. Hellner-Gomez said the adults will serve as life coaches for the freshmen throughout the year, helping them with different issues and offer another helping hand.

"They will have an adult advocate," said Hellner-Gomez, citing how some times there are issues that a student will need an adult to handle.

Incoming freshmen will have a chance to take part in a nearly week-long camp of sorts between the two programs. The Grizzly Success Academy will offer a program to incoming freshmen Aug. 15-18 from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., where students will have the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of being a freshman and become familiarized with the high school. Hellner-Gomez said the high school is anticipating 415 freshmen next year.

"We are hoping we can get big numbers (at the success academy)," said Hellner-Gomez.

The Link Crew will be holding an orientation on Aug. 19 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., which will include a family barbecue.

"It is a real high energy day," said Martinez.

This is the third year for the Link Crew, which has been very successful, said Martinez. The program had a remarkable turnout last year with 350 of the 408 freshmen at the beginning of the year taking part in Link Crew.

Hellner-Gomez pointed out the plans of the two programs will not interfere with any high school fall sports. Freshmen will also earn a half-credit for taking part in the program and meeting with their life coaches throughout the year.

The district has been looking at a program like the Grizzly Success Academy for some time. The district found a model program at Mt. View High School in Vancouver, which in three years saw an increase in participation from 11 students to more than 300. For right now, the school district is funding the Grizzly Success Academy. But, the district is looking at trying to obtain a five-year, $160,000 federal grant for additional funding, said Hellner-Gomez.

Hellner-Gomez is hoping the Grizzly Success Academy working with Link Crew will help address those issues new students to the high school face. One of the more notable concerns is the dropout rate, which is greatest for students between the eighth and 10th grades, she explained.

Both Hellner-Gomez and Martinez feel programs such as Link Crew have been successful in retaining students. They both hope the Grizzly Success Academy adds more to the efforts already underway.

Hellner-Gomez explained while no hard data is available on student retention at the high school, there is some proof the efforts of the staff to retain students is working.

"We have had to add sections because kids aren't leaving," said Hellner-Gomez.

Hellner-Gomez said it is even more important to get programs into place such as the Grizzly Success Academy and the Link program because the high school is projected by 2010 to have an enrollment around 2,000 students. Hellner-Gomez said as the high school grows larger it is easier for students to become lost in the shuffle.

"We want students to feel welcome at the high school," said Hellner-Gomez. "We want students to get a strong academic start out of the gate."

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