linking ninth graders to success

Never again will the 420 Mt. Lebanon High School ninth graders be as quiet as they were at this year’s orientation, when they were commanded to organize themselves by height, from tallest to smallest, without speaking. Led by the Link Crew, 88 mentors from the junior and senior classes, the exercise helped  them how to make appropriate decisions—a skill they will need to be successful at MLHS.

“Watch the people who are making good decisions,” said guidance counselor Shelly Saba. “Think about the decisions you are making.”

The Link Crew, brand new this year thanks to a $6,000 grant from the Mt. Lebanon Foundation for Education, comes from the Boomerang Program, an organization that trains school staff to facilitate peer leadership, with 3,000 participating schools. Mt. Lebanon’s participation started with Saba, math teacher Mike Locke and unit principal Erin Wright attending a three-day orientation program in Columbus last year.

They then invited students to apply to be Link Crew Leaders. The chosen group is diverse. “The main thing we were looking for is kids who are kind,” Wright said. Not only did the crew leaders help orient the ninth graders, they will be there for them  all year, leading monthly workshops, and  offering advice on everything from how to get academic help to social issues  such as what to wear to dances.

The leaders trained last spring and then gave up the major part of two summer days to work in co-ed teams of two. Each two-person team mentors 10-12 ninth graders.

The orientation started with ninth graders  running into the gym through a cheerful gauntlet of high-fives, and continued with a  90-minute assembly of funny games (smash the balloon against another person with your body; tell your life story in 30 seconds.) They then broke into their actual groups, toured the building  with their leaders and learned the “14 Things Every Freshman Should Know,” written by the leaders. (That list is posted below!)

The orientation provided a good chance for the staff to attention to impart unpreachy advice. After an exercise where students had to sort themselves by birthday, Saba described the actions of a boy who wanted so much to stay with his friend that he lied about his birthday to stay next to him. She used the opportunity to tell the kids that it’s OK to break away from such “bungee cord buddies.”

She explained the three types of students: “Students who make things happen, students who watch things happen and students who wonder ‘what happened?’” Saba said, adding. “I challenge you, in the next four years, to step out of that and into the picture. … We need you to be leaders here at Mt. Lebanon High School. All of you.”


14 Things Every Freshman Should Know


  1. Take your grades freshman year seriously; colleges look at them
  2. Most freshmen eat lunch in the fourth floor cafeteria. Be nice to the cafeteria workers. You never know when they can help you out. Get in the lunch line as early as possible; it can get backed up. If you don’t have a lunch table to sit at, don’t be scared to ask people if you can join them. You can also get a library pass and eat there with friends.
  3. Do not stop in the middle of the hallway or stairwell to have a conversation with your friend(s). Stay to the right side. The stairwells can especially get really backed up. Also, no one likes to see PDA in the hallway.
  4. Don’t let upperclassmen intimidate you because you are just as important as they are. They were all freshmen once.
  5. Go to school functions. Ask someone to dance in a cute way, and it is ok to go stag with a group of friends. Attend sporting events, music concerts and theater productions. Oh, and seniors usually sit in the front row of the student section at football games.
  6. Do your homework; it helps. Read your English books. Don’t procrastinate, especially with English papers. Make a plan for accomplishing your school work, especially during midterms and finals. Use an agenda or calendar and set yourself reminders. Use Dashboard! Efficient study groups are extremely helpful.
  7. Don’t be late for class. Participate in class. Use your study hall wisely.
  8. Choose classes that you are interested in. Do not choose classes because they will look good on a transcript. Honors and AP classes aren’t everything. Don’t take them because you think they are what make you smart. Take them because you are interested in the course content.
  9. Be kind to your teachers. Establish a good relationship with your teachers and connect with them; it helps in the long run. Don’t be afraid to ask them for help. Take advantage of extra help opportunities they offer.
  10. Get to know your guidance counselor and homeroom teacher. They will help you out with a multitude of different things throughout your high school career.
  11. Step out of your comfort zone. Talk to new people. Be open minded to new people, new teachers and new friends. Align yourself with others that you can see being realistically successful. Surround yourself with people who challenge you mentally, physically, etc. You will be better for it.
  12. High school is what you make it. Have fun. Get involved. Choose an activity and commit to it. You will make some of your best friends when you join extracurricular activities.
  13. You are more than your GPA. You are not your grades. Failure is an event, never a person.
  14. Just be you; you’re probably pretty cool.