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Massena officials say programs help combat bullying, harassment

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MASSENA - Efforts to control bullying and harassment through two mentoring programs are paying off, according to Massena Central School officials.

“We’re trying to really embrace the concept of controlling bullying and harassment,” high school Principal Patrick Farrand told board of education members this week during a presentation on the school’s Link Crew and Learn to Lead programs.

Link Crew students are juniors and seniors who have volunteered to act as mentors for freshmen students. Each Link Crew team has approximately 10 to 12 freshmen students who are in contact with each other throughout the year to help ease the transition to high school.

The Learn to Lead program operates in a similar fashion, linking juniors and seniors with freshmen and sophomores who might be facing challenges either personally or academically. Twenty-eight students recently spent three days together at SUNY Cortland’s Camp Huntington Outdoor Education Center in Raquette Lake, participating in team-building activities and other events designed to build a relationship between the mentors and mentees.

Guidance counselor Erin Covell said the Learn to Lead program was started a number of years ago by Mary Arcadi.

“She had more of a physical education component to it,” she said.

Ms. Covell said she and counselor Robert Jordan were asked by Ms. Arcadi to chaperone one of the trips and that’s where they learned the value of the Learn to Lead program.

“We found the students who were most impacted were students who were disconnected from school in some way” or had other personal issues, she said.

During their three-day trip, students took part in a number of team-building activities and other events designed to build a relationship between the mentors and mentees, according to Ms. Covell. Those included canoeing, sharing meals together, nature walks and a high ropes course. She said it was exciting to watch as kids overcame obstacles while other students were cheering them on.

“What we found was how kids impact other kids. We need to find a way to empower more kids,” she said.

In searching for ways to empower more students, Ms. Covell and Mr. Jordan discovered Link Crew, which trains upperclassmen for two days to become mentors for incoming freshmen. An orientation before the start of the school year links them up for the first time, as the Link Crew members gather in the high school gymnasium - behind closed doors - and form a gauntlet while music blares.

“As the doors open the freshmen have to run through this gauntlet,” where they receive high fives from all of the Link Crew members, she said.

“They’re feeling good, feeling excited,” Ms. Covell said. “By the time they’re done, they know names and know they have someone they can go to. It’s been a very positive experience.”

But it doesn’t end on the first day of school, she said. They recently held a game night, with the first hour devoted to homework before the students took part in activities such as a “Wii Room” and “Dance Central Room.”

“With a program like this, it’s kids taking care of other kids. It changes the climate in school. It’s valuable for me as an educator, and it’s valuable for them,” Ms. Covell said.

“Both programs are so important. They’re all awesome in their own ways and have a place here,” Mr. Farrand said.

Board member Patrick Serguson, who had observed Link Crew training, agreed.

“I could tell the students got a lot from it,” he said.

Among the students who said she found value in the Learn to Lead program was senior Nikki Zeitzmann, who moved from Georgia to Massena and is in her first year at Massena High School. She told board members Massena was her fourth school that she had attended in her high school career.

“I have been to many (private and public) schools and been in many different situations. Never in my life have I been in a school like this one. As soon as I got here I realized it was going to be a different atmosphere and a different environment,” she said.

Ms. Zeitzmann said that, after a coupe of days, other students were coming up and talking to her.

“They were interested to know my sister and I and our story,” she said.

As a mentor on the Learn to Lead trip, Ms. Zeitzmann said she was partnered with a younger female student who she got to know over the three days.

“Throughout the trip she did open up. I got to find out who this beautiful young woman was,” she said, noting that the Learn to Lead program gave her an opportunity not only to get to know her mentee, but also everyone else who made the trip.

“We all go in as individual strangers, but we come out as family,” she said. “It’s been such a humbling experience for me personally. I learned a lot from everybody.”

Senior Baylee Carroll said she had participated in Link Crew and Learn to Lead as both a junior and senior.

“Last year I was picked to be in Link Crew. I felt honored to be picked for it. It turned out to be a really big deal,” she said.

This year, she said, the program had more of an impact on her as she was linked with a student who didn’t want to be in school.

“I’ve been with him since the first day of school and got to know him well. I was able to get him to go to Fun Night. He and I are really close,” Ms. Carroll said. “It was life-changing. It made me look at things with a whole new perspective.”

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