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Berkwood Hedge School

How We Learn » Buddy Program

Buddy Program

The Kindergarten and Fifth Grade Connection

Who among us doesn't remember a feeling of pride when, as young children, we were befriended by an older child? Those feelings of awe, curiosity, belonging, acceptance, and recognition: all were intrinsic in our development of sense of self in the larger world. They helped us to build the confidence and sense of safety we needed to navigate the world of school, and ultimately, the world around us. According to Leah Davies, M.Ed., good school-wide buddy systems promote more than just those warm feelings; these programs enhance positive behaviors in both the older and the younger buddies.

Older children love the sense of responsibility they feel for their younger buddies and are therefore motivated to be the best buddy they can be. Further, they are able to practice their own skills of cooperation and collaboration with a younger child who can learn those same skills by interacting with the older students. They have opportunities to practice taking turns, sharing knowledge, listening to each other, helping and praising one another, and completing tasks with the help of someone more experienced than they are. Social skills are honed.

Buddies tend to bond with one another and form friendships that are lasting and strong. Ask any Berkwood Hedge fifth grader who their buddy was when they were in kindergarten, and you are sure to get enthusiastic and warm memories of that special relationship.

A tradition for many years at Berkwood Hedge, the K-5 connection is something that the older children look forward to throughout their years here, even though they've been in other buddy situations at other grade levels. They remember their time with a fifth grade buddy so clearly that they strive to duplicate those wonderful relationships with the current Kindergartener SPIRITS. Through play and cooperative learning activities, the fifth grade FIRE class mentors the younger students with patience, wisdom, and incredible tenderness.

The FIRE and SPIRIT buddies meet every Monday for 30 minutes to engage in play or work, with the FIRE buddies assisting the SPIRITS by giving them support and encouragement to follow directions, to complete their class projects, to work cooperatively, to learn to play a good game of "buddy ball", and to engage in a mixed-age relationship that becomes increasingly special as the year progresses. They also go on several field trips to work together outside the classroom.


Other Grade-Level Buddies

At other grade levels, reading buddies abound. Research has shown that the reading buddy relationship is useful in developing the language and literacy of both the older and the younger students. Older students become more skilled and flexible as readers and more willing participants in discussions about books. Their interpersonal skills improve; they gain greater appreciation for the role of the teacher. Most importantly, they gain in self-esteem, feeling as if their work with younger students is helping with both their reading skills and their social skills. Younger students gain from the experience, not only in learning about reading, but also in having successful social interactions with others. They learn reading behaviors, listening skills, and book selection strategies. They become more willing to converse with older friends and more adept at interacting with others.

The third graders in the AIR class also meet weekly with the students from the SPIRIT class to read. Seema Patel, AIR class teacher, reports that this reading relationship includes partner book discussions, written activities related to comprehension, and specific author studies. Recently, a study of the books of Eric Carle that began in the SPIRIT class carried over to reading buddies when students from both classes collaborated in the creation of character trading cards.

Another reading relationship takes place between the fourth grade WATER class students and the first graders in the WOOD class. Erica Ryan, WATER class teacher, prepares the fourth graders for this relationship by discussing the qualities of a good read aloud: expression, attention to punctuation, intonation, and tempo. Certainly, the WOOD-workers benefit from the knowledge of the WATER class, and the fourth graders develop their skills as well. The offshoot of this relationship takes the form of honoring in community meeting and delivering notes and drawings to each other, and, as the school year progresses, our Woodworkers are reading to their older buddies.

The second graders in the EARTH class have a math buddy relationship with the fourth graders in the WATER class. Meeting once a week, the two groups play math games together. In this each "one teach one" connection, both the older and the younger students benefit by sharing their thinking and their strategies for the math processes involved in the games.


Buddies in the Community

A wonderful extension of mixed-age buddies is the buddy relationship the Kindergarten SPIRITS have with the seniors at the North Berkeley Senior Center. There they read and are read to from Eric Carle's books. The benefits for everyone in this situation are enormous. According to SPRIT teacher Hanan Masri, this intergenerational exchange builds confidence in the little ones and brightens the days of those involved in the program at the senior center.

These mixed age groups are part of the fiber of Berkwood Hedge School. The strong relationships established in these "buddy" activities endure throughout the students' time at school and often beyond.