On a recent Thursday afternoon, Betsy Platt’s Pre-Kindergarten class read books and played charades with their fifth grade partners from Courtney Bonang’s class. Down the hall, Nicole Siverls’ Kindergartners and Kat Callard’s second graders read a book about a girl in a wheelchair and then talked about what they knew and wondered about people with disabilities. And upstairs, eighth graders from Susan Bogue Myslik’s English class interviewed their first grade buddies about their favorite place in the School in preparation for a writing assignment about perspective.
Partner classes make our large community smaller – they create opportunities for older students to reach back to younger ones and be role models; for the younger students, it can give them a sense of being a part of the broader Park student body.” ~ Cynthia A. Harmon, Head of School
One of the many advantages of a Pre-K-8 elementary school is giving kids of all ages opportunities to interact with each other. Across nearly every grade at Park, teachers have created meaningful interactions between children of different ages through buddy programs like these.
“As a school community, the opportunity to have children connect across the developmental ages and divisions is quite special,” says Cynthia Harmon, Park’s Head of School. “Partner classes make our large community smaller – they create opportunities for older students to reach back to younger ones and be role models; for the younger students, it can give them a sense of being a part of the broader Park student body.”
There are at least ten different buddy programs in place this year at Park, some following decades-old track records of success and some in the early stages of experimentation and learning. Betsy Platt and Jerilyn Willig started their Pre-K and Grade I buddy program 12 years ago and immediately recognized the benefits to both grades. “Betsy and I are big believers in the power and the importance of play,” says Jerilyn. “When we get together, the kids play. They build, they cut, they dress-up, they sculpt … they practice compromising, showing compassion, listening and speaking, applying learned skills to new situations, tapping into creativity and imagination. There’s so much rich learning and growing that happens among these littlest Parkies during these buddy times.”
Older students benefit from buddy programs, too. When Susan Bogue Myslik’s eighth graders began their partnership with first graders five years ago, she remembers asking herself whether her students were benefitting as much from the program as the younger kids were. “At the end of the year, I had them articulate why it was important for them,” Susan said, “and it was a list of everything I’d want them to get out of English class: perspective, understanding that their own ideas matter and have impact, community, looking out for each other, all the things you want to learn from good literature.”
Current eighth graders agree and feel the program has given them more confidence and the ability to see things from a different lens. Anna Fattaey, an eighth grader in Ms. Bogue Myslik’s class, says the buddy program helps her appreciate another viewpoint. “When something’s really hard for me, it reminds me that we’ll probably look back on our problems now as little problems. They [our first grade buddies] have their problems and we have ours. It makes our problems seem smaller because we can see that they have problems too.”
Kimberly Formisano, Lower & Middle Division Head, sums it up like this: “These programs are a wonderful opportunity to build a relationship with an older student, and in many cases help provide a mirror and a connection to the MD or UD. The older students model what it means to be a friend, a supporter, a helper, and a teacher. The students learn from one another in meaningful ways that are unique to the partnerships.”