Standing in a circle on the playground, seven visiting high school students and twenty elementary-age children introduce themselves to each other, with some of the younger kids smiling shyly at their older guests. All of the kids soon spread out in small groups to nearby play structures and the athletic field to read books, play and talk together.
The high school students attend Mount Madonna School (MMS), and the younger students are 2nd-5th graders at Hall District Elementary School in Las Lomas. The visit was an ice-breaker and inaugurates what teachers at both schools hope will develop into ongoing friendships between the students.
“My goals are to promote positive relationships across the demographic divide,” explains Suzy Stevens, a resource specialist at Hall, and parent of one of the visiting MMS students. “I want to show both groups how similar we are as people, even though we live very differently within the same zip code.”
The inspiration for starting this ‘buddy program’ evolved from a discussion between the MMS sophomore parents and high school Spanish teacher Oscar Pérez, about ways to involve their children in more opportunities for speaking Spanish and engaging with the local Hispanic community.
Stevens spoke up and suggested that the sophomores could come and ‘buddy’ with her Hall District students. As the discussion developed, Perez agreed to have the MMS students participate in some pen-pal letter writing, and soon the Hall students wrote letters in Spanish to their new MMS buddies. Then, earlier this month, some of the students were able to get together in person.
“The students had a wonderful first meeting with each other,” says Stevens. “The MMS sophomores brought their favorite picture books to read and share with their younger Hall buddies. We reread pen pal letters, played soccer and tetherball, and played on the swings. The kids enjoyed a snack of pan dulce , Mexican cinnamon tea and apples together. One boy made cupcakes with his cousin the night before. Pen pals were assigned so each student will write to the same person once or twice a month.”
The participating Hall students all have speech, language, health or learning disabilities that cause them to fall behind in school. Stevens works with them through the school’s Resource Specialist Program, on basic skills for an hour or more during each school day. Both Stevens and Perez believe the interaction between the two groups of students will be mutually beneficial.
“My ideal would be to go on field trips together to nature sites like Elkhorn Slough and the Watsonville wetlands; and cultural sites like Mi Pueblo market, restaurants and bakeries,” explains Stevens, “as well city sites like parks, Cabrillo College’s Watsonville campus, and the library. I am excited to be blending MMS and Hall students, and hope to foster new friendships. My Hall students ask daily, ‘When are our big buddies coming back? It was fun when they were here!’”
“Reading and playing with our little buddies was an amazing experience,” comments MMS sophomore Cassie Carbon. “The genuine joy, openness and playfulness they have is inspiring, and I look forward to receiving and writing letters to our buddies each week. When I met my buddy in person I already felt a connection, and was able to build an even deeper connection after our visit.”
“I liked the experience of playing with the Hall kids,” shares MMS sophomore Cooper Stevens. “I was surprised at how much they paid attention when we read the books. Overall, it was a fun experience.”
“I encourage the students to interact with the surrounding community because they can greatly benefit from external perspectives,” comments Pérez. “They benefit from engaging with the Hall tudents by practicing their written Spanish and finding ways to convey what is important to them to the younger students. This builds a greater sense of community connection, and is a great opportunity for the participants to develop stronger community bonds and for the MMS students to potentially start learning about being mentors.”
In December the students will meet again, when the Hall kids visit the MMS campus, to have lunch with their sophomore buddies and attend Mount Madonna’s middle school’s production of Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland, Jr.”
Contact: Leigh Ann Clifton, Media & Public Relations,
Nestled among the redwoods on 355 mountaintop acres, Mount Madonna is a safe and nurturing college-preparatory school that supports students in becoming caring, self-aware and articulate critical thinkers, who are prepared to meet challenges with perseverance, creativity and integrity. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville.