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Higley programs create connection for students

Social Emotional connection

Making connections with peers in an academic environment can often make a difference in students’ educational engagement, especially those new to campus. On Higley Unified School District’s 13 campuses, programs and initiatives help cultivate this, beginning with the first day of school.

This year, HUSD middle schools launched Where Everybody Belongs (WEB) and high schools continued with the established Link Crew program. Both initiatives connect incoming class members with older peers who can answer questions and encourage involvement on campus.

“During freshman year I felt like I could have used a little more help and when I heard about Link Crew, I thought that maybe I could be the one to help somebody,” said Link Crew member Aubrey Wengert, a junior at Higley High.

Each program started this year with an orientation, which included ice breakers, school tours and advice on topics like homework, clubs and friendships. Throughout the school year, older students will plan activities for new students and encourage them to join in established school traditions.

Williams Field senior Cadence Heiner said participating in the program freshman year helped since she had moved to Gilbert from out-of-state.

“Coming in I had a group of people that I could look up to. I wanted to do the same and create a warm environment for the freshmen,” she said.

In addition to the relational piece, Link Crew provides programing for freshmen throughout the year.

“These lessons are on topics such as study skills, graduation information, and goal setting,” said Higley High Link Crew instructor Kaitlyn Cole.

At the middle school, WEB helps students feel more comfortable on campus. WEB also helps to grow leadership skills in older students and develop them into influencers of good.

Sossaman eighth-grader Laci Degner said she enjoys being a leader.

“[WEB] lets students meet people before school and not be totally alone,” Degner said.

Higley Unified’s campuses also engage in programs beyond peer mentoring. Williams Field High, along with Sossaman and Cooley Middle Schools, are part of the “No Place for Hate” movement, aimed at bullying prevention.

Gateway Pointe Elementary adopted the Be Kind Project. Both HUSD high schools added “Bring Change to Mind” to their club list. The organization is dedicated to encouraging dialogue about mental health, as well as raising awareness, understanding and empathy.