NEWTOWN SQUARE–Forty students are hand-picked by faculty and students through a process each year to attend a leadership weekend. They receive a handwritten note to meet at a certain time and classroom.
Once all 40 students show up at the designated classroom, they are then given a formal invitation to attend a leadership weekend full of team-building activities, focusing on communication, relationship and leadership skills.
The weekend is hosted by the high school's LINK (Leaders Involved in Networking Kids) program and students are only given a few days to decide to attend, unaware of what the weekend is exactly about. The weekend is led by 10 student leaders, three faculty advisers and 10 teachers but only the students leaders know the schedule and activities planned.
It's easy to see that the program has developed quite a reputation and carries an air of mystique with it but faculty advisers Tracy Jacobson, guidance counselor, Brian Isselman, social studies teacher, and seniors Max Seiler, Mike Doherty and Larisa Fox, and junior Cat Rainone, who have already experienced a LINK weekend share with Marple Newtown Patch what LINK is all about.
Spring 2008 was the first time we really found out about LINK through Unionville High School, who started the program. We liked it so much, we just copied and pasted it and ran our first weekend at Marple Newtown in the fall of 2008 (Jacobson).
April 13-15 is the next LINK weekend. Now 40 new students have been invited and, by design, it's a quick process so they don't sit on it [invitation to LINK weekend]. They don’t have a lot of time to think on it. If you’re going to take the risk, jump. You have to trust the process (Jacobson).
It's not spoon-fed. You're taken away from the high school environment and you're forced to interact with people you normally don't hang out with at school or at home. When they told us no phones, I said, 'What? No phones?' That was kind of a big issue because I’m always on my phone but you have to trust the process. It basically changed who I am. During the weekend, you see people behind what they look like, and see who they really are (Rainone).
I was on the first trip, and I get this note from a girl I’ve never spoken to in my science class. I was a freshman. I didn’t know anything. I think I knew like two people out of the 40. Right from the onset, there's an air of uncertainty; you don’t know what’s coming next, but you blindly go and experience what it is. Even the teachers on the trip–you're able to stop thinking of them as teachers and just as another person on the trip (Fox).
There’s some kind of mist around LINK—it makes them zombies, or it's a cult, and it changes people...we hear that a lot from kids who haven't gone and don't know about it. But it’s really remarkable. It does change you...and how you see people. When you get back, you’re a little more open minded about other people and everyone and I truly belive it makes you a better person overall. I don’t think anyone would disagree with it (Doherty).
My hope is that we somehow get all the students to do it in the whole school...it would change the school community entirely. There are a few negative kids (negative reactions more) who make fun of you, but after what you’ve gone through that weekend, you want them to go through it too. Barriers are broken down between teachers and students. It’s just, unlike anything. It really is barrier breaking (Seiler).
It's an organic experience. The experience wouldn’t be pure if students were going back and telling their friends what happened. That’s the reason for them going back and not talking about it [the weekend]. What’s the benefit to school environment? Bullying, of course, and breaking down social barriers. Also, personal trust from the students with the staff in the building. If something was going wrong—they could trust and talk to a faculty (Jacobson).
Spring 2010 was the last time we went on a LINK weekend. Ideally, we would like to have it twice a year–once in the fall and once in the spring. It's roughly $9,000-$10,000 a weekend. For the first three weekends, through an incredible amount of donations, none of the students had to pay and we want to keep it that way but, unfortunately, we just couldn't get the money raised after two years off. But we've created a scholarship program for students who can't really pay for the weekend. Obviously, we would love to have future donors but at the same time, it’s a lot of grass roots effort. There is something nice to grassroots fundraising in that it's a great way to link the community, students, and teachers. Local business-wise, we probably have somewhere in the neighborhood of 8-10 sponsors (Isselman).