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Freshmen linked to new buddies

Program at South Medford High gives new students a way to overcome their fears, learn the ropes

Anxious freshmen entering South Medford High School worry that they might be the losers in a game of King of the Hill.

You were at the top of the food chain, now you're at the bottom, said freshman Amy Rinkle of Medford.

Amy and 450 other freshmen got their first taste of life after middle school Wednesday morning when they showed up for the biggest orientation of students in South Medford's history.

They are part of the Links program, which teams 90 upperclassmen with freshmen to give them a helping hand through their first year in high school.

This is one of many programs Jackson County schools have undertaken to combat high dropout rates and create a more welcoming atmosphere for students.

South Medford has the seventh-highest dropout rate in Oregon at 9.35 percent in 2000-2001, which is an improvement over the previous year's percentage of 10.57. The four-year rate is 33.24 percent of students.

Jackson County as a whole posted a 6.7 percent dropout rate in 2000-2001.

Admittedly nervous about her budding high school experience, Amy said she will be the most concerned about her grades. I might go through the whole year being nervous, she said.

She found the Links Program useful, particularly because she discovered the likes and dislikes of her new teachers and how much time she would be spending on homework.

Another freshman, Megan Plankenhorn of Medford, also appreciated the program. You know there is someone there you can talk to.

Their Links buddies, Angelica Espinoza of White City and Anelisa Durham of Medford, reassured seven of the 11 freshmen in their team who showed up for the orientation that high school is really not that bad.

Anelisa said, People are less judgmental. They pretty much leave you alone.

Angelica suggested the students participate in school activities to keep their interest level high. The more things you're involved with, the better, she said.

The juniors, who spent four hours getting to know the freshmen, told them that they would be available for the rest of the year.

If they're having trouble in the classroom, we can help them, said Angelica. It's kind of like having a big buddy.

Freshmen and their new Links buddies will meet again on Sept. 6, and then at least once a month thereafter. Students who missed the orientation still have a designated buddy.

South Medford counselor Donnie Frazier said the Links program is beginning to pay off at his school, with more students graduating and the dropout rate improving.

Frazier said the ultimate test will come this year and in the next three to four years as the students who were freshmen in Links begin graduating, perhaps bringing the dropout rate down even more.

Frazier said Links does more than just keep students in school. It helps create a better atmosphere for the whole student body.

Ask any teacher and they will tell you the school climate is positive and upbeat even in these stressful times, he said.

South Medford has almost 2,000 students enrolled, but fewer teachers this year after budget cuts. The remaining teachers will now see 180 or more students a day compared to about 150 last year.

With more students and fewer teachers, Links is more critical now than it ever was, said Frazier.

South Medford High School junior and Links leader Jordan Sies, far right, tried to untangle a human knot during a friend-making exercise Wednesday with some of the school's incoming freshmen. Click the photo to see a larger (38k) version. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell