The air crackles with nervous energy as upper level students teachers and administrators wait inside the old gym at Payson High School Tuesday — outside, the largest freshman class in 10 years anxiously wait for orientation to start.
“Are you ready? Let’s hear it!” Kristi Ford’s voice blares over the loudspeakers. Cheers erupt from students and faculty lined up in rows — as new students enter, they “run the gauntlet” through the center of two lines receiving yells of encouragement.
“Here comes the incoming class of 2015,” Ford’s voice booms throughout the gym. Freshmen pour in, streaming through the double lines of students, faculty and staff. After high fives, confused smiles and darting eyes, freshmen head for tables where they gather nametags, then move toward the bleachers.
Tuesday marked the fourth year the PHS Link Crew has presented its transition program designed to introduce incoming students to the campus and staff, all with the hope of making high school a little less daunting.
Senior Alicia Bayless, along with other seniors and juniors, wear black T-shirts with the message: “Frosh are friends, not food,” and a picture of Disney’s Nemo.
“When I was a freshman, I loved knowing the Link students. They taught us how to balance school and home life and gave us an older peer to help transition us into high school,” she said.
Full of positive energy, a warm smile, engaging eyes, and a passion for helping others, Bayless has immersed herself in school activities, including working as a student ambassador.
As Bayless talks, music blares in the background.
“Tomorrow, we’re wearing our T-shirts so freshmen can find us. We’re available for questions. We want to make high school friendlier,” she said.
With the new class settled into their seats, Ford takes her place.
“Did you know you’re the largest class on this campus?” she says.
Murmurs ripple through the crowd.
“So, you’ll be very visible on campus. We’re here to help you get the most out of your first year in high school,” she says.
To break the ice, Ford suggests a game of Simon Says.
“Clap your hands,” Ford says.
“Oops. Did you hear ‘Simon says’? Nooooo! So sit down those of you who clapped those hands,” Ford said.
After working through the game, Ford presents teachers and staff.
“I’d like to introduce you to the people that, for the next four years will control your weekends, your car, your evenings and your grades — your teachers!” Ford said.
“Now I’d like you to meet the two ladies who keep all of us organized — your administrators.”
“We’re like Mutt and Jeff,” Principal Kathe Ketchem says, wrapping her arm around shorter Vice-Principal Anna VanZile. “We work closely together so if you need us, we’ll be there for you. Just stop by the administration office. We’re looking forward to a great year.”
For the next 30 minutes, freshmen mix it up in different activities, meeting new classmates and refreshing old friendships.
Ford asks for 20 volunteers. Lining up opposite each other in the center of the gym, 10 females and 10 males face two Link Crew students.
“OK boys and girls, you’re going to take these balloons, walk up to the Link Crew member facing you and pop the balloon without touching it,” explains Ford.
Gasps rise up from the volunteers as they realize they are going to have to hug to pop the balloon.
One freshman, much smaller than the Link Crew member, is picked up, feet dangling off the ground to pop the balloon.
“Not everything one does in high school is comfortable. Do you believe they were comfortable doing what they just did?” Ford asks the crowd on the bleachers. “No, but they tried anyway. That’s the point of high school.”
The incoming students spend about five hours getting familiar with their new surroundings, talking to Link Crew staff and learning they need to work together and juggle their time if they want to have a successful high school experience.