Building Community One Buddy at a Time
A 5th grade boy passes two first grade students who are on their way to deliver the attendance to the office, greets them both by name, and gives each a high five. A 3rd grade girl, on her way out the door during carpool, stops to hug a couple of kindergarten students who are on their way to afterschool swim class. Out at recess, a group of students from grades 2, 3, and 4 are playing soccer, while another group, spanning grades 1-5 are out on the basketball court. During middle school lunch/recess period, a 7th grade girl is deep in conversation with two 6th graders, as a group of boys from grades 6-8 head out for football.
At PJA, students learn and socialize with students from other classes. Impromptu exchanges, like those described above, grow from our small school’s emphasis on community and from the “buddy program,” which gives older students opportunities to be “big brothers and sisters” to younger students, and gives students near in age opportunities to learn and socialize together.
Here is what some of the “buddies” have been up to:
Full Day Ganon and their Second Grade buddies meet every Wednesday afternoon to do an art project together. They have made picture frames, decorated them with alphabet pasta and will take photos to put inside. Students in Full Day Ganon also do activities with their neighboring pre-school classes. On Monday mornings, they join with Ashlea and Matt's class. The classes are divided into 3 groups of eight to do a science project, play an organized game, and have time to socialize at recess and snack. On Thursdays, they get together with Ellen and Nancy's class, re-mix in groups of 8, and enjoy a story and snack, recess, and an art-related activity.
The two kindergarten classes have many opportunities to interact. They love being neighbors and going out to recess together, and they often come together for stories and for special events like last month’s Harvest Hoe-Down. Both classes will begin getting together with full day Ganon for a “community snack,” and each kindergarten has their own older buddy class.
Third grade and Celinda’s kindergarten classes have already enjoyed several “buddy times” together. Third graders read to their buddies, teach them math games, do art projects, and play games designed to help them get to know each other.
Fourth Graders shared parts of their Native American unit with their buddies from Tara’s kindergarten and involved them in their Potlatch. The two classes have eaten lunch together and are planning to write a story together.
First Grade is hard at work creating Chanukah learning stations which they have invited Kindergarten to visit so the students can learn and celebrate together. Throughout the year, Kindergarten and First Grade will continue to meet to share stories they are writing and work together on a variety of projects. Second and Third grade will be going together to see The Diary of a Worm and Spider at Oregon Children’s Theater in early February. Third and Fourth Grade students sing together each week in Makhela (choir) Fifth and Sixth grade have a Poetry Party planned and will continue to work together on language arts projects throughout the year. Fifth grade is also looking forward to their first project with their Half-Day Ganon buddies.
Third, Fourth, and Fifth Grade have a weekly “community lunch” in the ballroom, where students sit in mixed-grade groups. At each recess there is a lovely critical mass of kindergarten-fifth graders out playing soccer, basketball, and football together, while smaller groups of mixed-age groups play on the climbing structure and create their own games.
Middle School students have many opportunities throughout the week and school year to learn and socialize in mixed grade groups. Each day, students choose which Humanities classroom they want to eat lunch in, and typically the groups in each room span the three grades of Middle School. Once a month, all Middle School students come together for a community lunch and special programming in the ballroom. Many Middle School programs are multi-grade, including the half day Literacy and Math/Science celebrations earlier in the year, T’fillah, study periods, the weekly gathering, and Taglit – a week of special interdisciplinary classes in late winter. During Fourth Quarter, interested students in grades 6-8 can take the Main Stage Drama class and will perform together in a Midsummer Night’s Dream. Throughout the year, Choir students in 6-8 learn and sing together, with the cohort system allowing the 8th grade students to develop leadership skills while easing the social entry of new choir members, helping the choir become a cohesive unit, and providing an opportunity for girls from different grades to get to know and work with one another.
The buddy system strengthens the bonds among students in our school community, fosters cooperation, develops leadership skills, and – as the kindergarten and 4th grade student shouted in unison when I asked what they like about being buddies – IT’S FUN!