This article originally appeared in the summer 2011 Harker Quarterly.
In its first year, the Harker Eagle Buddies program has thus far proven to be a runaway success. Established as a way to build a long-lasting relationship between the students at the upper and lower school campuses, the Eagle Buddies program pairs grade 3 students with one or two buddies in grade 10, with whom they will maintain contact until the Class of 2013 graduates from the upper school and the grade 3 students graduate to the middle school.
The program was started by Butch Keller, upper school head, who was inspired by the wonderful experiences his own children had in a similar program.
The sophomores began communicating with their buddies in the fall by sending cards to the lower school campus to introduce themselves and invite their buddies to talk about things they enjoyed. The buddies from both campuses first met face-to-face in October, with the sophomores being greeted enthusiastically by the third graders. After the initial meeting, Sarah Leonard, primary division head, said she was impressed with how well the third graders and sophomores hit it off. “For most, it was instantaneous,” she said. “The buddies clicked, and new friendships were born.”
They later met again at a special tailgate party held before the Harker Homecoming Game, where the parents of the grade 3 and grade 10 buddies had a chance to meet and chat with one another while their children watched the game. Liam Bakar got to watch his buddy, Robert Deng, play in the junior varsity game. The two hung out together after the game was finished, and Bakar said Deng was “very nice, and I like a lot of the things that he likes.”
In November the third graders were overjoyed to receive turkey handprint cards from their grade 10 buddies for Thanksgiving. “It was very well- received,” said Carol Zink, upper school history teacher and an Eagle Buddies coordinator. “They’re thrilled whenever they get anything from the big kids.”
Later, in January, the sophomores visited the lower school campus to participate in its annual Pajama Drive, started in 2007 by student Rishi Narain, now grade 7. During the special assembly, Keller, donning a bathrobe and leaning back in a rocking chair, read the story “We Are Going On A Bear Hunt” to the students in attendance. The buddies also enjoyed reading stories of their own to one another. Zink said the event was fun for students from both grades: the third graders got to spend quality time with upper school role models, and the sophomores had the opportunity to “lighten up and be kids for a little bit.”
To celebrate Valentine’s Day, the smaller buddies sent valentines to their big friends. The following month the favor was returned when the big kids sent St. Patrick’s Day cards to their buddies at the lower school.
Months later, the buddies celebrated Earth Day with each other by planting a tree at the upper school campus. The buddies helped dig a suitable hole for a London Plains tree which was donated by the Modern Woodmen of America and planted next to Rosenthal Field.
Later that month, the lower schoolers once again visited the Saratoga campus to participate in the upper school’s spirit rally. They enjoyed watching their sophomore friends perform a hilarious skit and also took part in the annual scream-off, where each class tried to out-yell the others. After the rally, the buddies enjoyed pizza and friendly conversation on the turf at Davis Field.
“One of the most fun things about this for me,” Zink said, “is that our high school kids get to be little kids for an hour here or there during the year.”
These activities are planned to be continued next year, when the current grade 2 and grade 9 classes move up to grade 3 and grade 10, respectively.
When this year’s buddies reach grade 4 and grade 11 at the beginning of next year, the two classes will exchange letters again to get caught up and reminisce about their summer activities. Some kind of activity for the buddies at the Family & Alumni Picnic is also planned. Toward the end of the fall 2011 semester, the two classes will team up for the Harker Toy Drive, which is the grade 4 students’ annual service project, and they will also make special holiday candy boxes for Scott Lane Elementary. The rising juniors will also visit Bucknall for a St. Patrick’s Day party, and their grade 4 buddies will likely visit Saratoga on Wednesday during the upper school’s spirit week for a special field day.