GROVE CITY, Ohio (WCMH) — The first day of school can be a struggle for some students, particularly for those making the jump from middle school to high school.

And with South-Western City Schools returning to the classroom for the first day on Wednesday, one peer-lead program is helping students that are making that challenging transition.

“If they have an upper classman who can kind of help, ‘How do you keep track of all this?’ and all those things, that can be really helpful,” encourages Jessica Klinker, a librarian at Franklin Heights High School, and one of the program heads since its inception four years ago.

With a new school, new classmates, and new teachers, for incoming freshman, the switch from middle school to high school can be overwhelming.

“In middle school, a lot of times they may have three or four teachers they’re trying to keep track of. When you get to high school, we have an eight-period day. So that student may have seven different teachers,” Klinker adds.

But with the transition extending beyond the classroom, Franklin Heights “Link Crew” helps ease the burden of that shift.

“I think a lot of the challenges are being able to ask for help and knowing who they can go to for help,” says Kim Swank, a science teacher at Franklin Heights.

South-Western City schools is the fifth largest school district in the state. They’ll have roughly 350 freshmen in this year’s incoming class.

The Link Crew is made up 34 juniors and seniors, either nominated by their teachers or applying themselves.

“We look for those leaders in our building to really make the freshman feel welcome,” says school Intervention Specialist Erin Henschen.

The program is designed to provide freshman with a peer resource that they can turn to and seek guidance.

“I think the social and emotional health aspects of being connected and feeling like you have a place to belong. We’re having those conversations in our building and as a community of people,” Klinker adds.

Studies show that students who succeed in their freshman year, particularly in their first quarter, are far more likely to excel throughout high school.

“If they somehow fall behind, it’s really hard to get them back on track,” admits Klinker.

This year’s senior class is the first to bring the Link Crew program full circle.

“It’s kind of neat to see and hear their input on, ‘I remember that’, or ‘I remember being in my group,’ and just hearing that they still remembered their link leaders,” Henschen adds.

And with transition made particularly difficult due to the pandemic, educators say peer leadership is needed now more than ever.