Hip-hop music and cheering upperclassmen greeted nearly 200 incoming freshmen at Steamboat Springs High School last week.
The scene, while loud and chaotic, was hardly reminiscent of hazing traditions often depicted in movies and television.
In fact, it was quite the opposite.
Almost four dozen high school juniors and seniors have volunteered several days of their summer -- and many more hours to come -- to create a friendly and welcoming atmosphere for the school's latest group of freshmen.
Their efforts are part of the high school's implementation of a national program aimed at making freshmen feel comfortable and welcome in their new surroundings, which in turn, increases the likelihood of academic and social success.
The program, called Link Crew, originated in California in 1988 to address hazing and other problems commonly experienced by freshmen. In the 16 years since its inception, the program has reached more than 400,000 high school freshmen across the country.
Bringing Link Crew to Steamboat has been discussed for several years but wasn't introduced until this summer, when teachers Lucianne Myhre and Chad Bowdre attended an intensive Link Crew training program. They, in turn, spent two days training the 42 juniors and seniors who were nominated by teachers to be part of the Link Crew program. Nominated students also had to apply for the "Link leader" positions.
"We have an amazing group of Link Crew leaders," Bowdre said. The leaders represent a cross-section of academic, social and athletic interests and success, he said.
Each of the 42 leaders was paired with a group of between five and seven freshmen.
They met Wednesday for the first time during an orientation day specially organized for the ninth-graders. The freshmen were ushered into the school's old gymnasium through a man-made tunnel of juniors and seniors who cheered and welcomed their new peers.
With music blaring, the freshmen settled into their new school with a blend of activities aimed at making them feel comfortable. Eventually the students split off with their Link Crew leaders for smaller group activities and tours of the school.
"We tried not to preach to them," senior Amanda Toy said. "I think they were having fun."
The Link Crew leaders and their freshman pals will have many more opportunities to spend time with each other during the course of the school year. The Link Crew program continues throughout the academic year, giving the freshmen additional chances to ask questions, air concerns and get advice from students who were in their shoes not very long ago.
"I know high school can be a really rough time for people," Toy said. "I just want to help kids not have such a tough time."
Senior Kelly Larson remembers her freshman year like it was yesterday. As a Link Crew leader, she hopes to make the freshman year easier for students.
"I think it's nice for them to have an upperclassman to be able to come to if they're having a problem," Larson said.