On Oct. 6, the Class of 2013 took a short field trip to the lower school campus and was welcomed with cheers and applause by the Class of 2021. It was an exciting day to celebrate in the Harker community as the students joined together for an afternoon of scavenger hunts, three-legged races and snacks.
The sophomores’ visit to the lower school marked the official kickoff of the Eagle Buddies program, an initiative aiming to bridge the campus divide by pairing tenth graders with third graders. Inspired by his own children’s experience with similar buddy programs, Butch Keller, upper school head, suggested starting Eagle Buddies, which strives to foster an ongoing relationship that will continue until the Class of 2013 graduates and the lower school students matriculate into the middle school.
Each third grader has been paired with one or two big buddies, and prior to the October kickoff the sophomores spent time writing introductions to their new buddies and talking about the exciting events to come. Crayons and markers in hand, the older students spent one advisory period creating handwritten cards about their interests. Some invited their little buddies to come watch their upcoming performances. Others talked about what they did during the summer and asked their little buddies to share stories as well. “I’m very excited to meet you. I remember when I was in third grade,” Apricot Tang wrote to her counterpart Annie Ma. “I had a buddy. It was lots of fun. I know we’ll have fun as well.”
“The goals for the program are to foster a K-12 sense of community and to promote responsibility, relationships and communication,” said Carol Zink, history teacher and one of the Eagle Buddies coordinators. Both students and faculty alike are looking forward to forging friendships.
“I am most looking forward to watching the students interact during the various activities we have planned for them at each campus,” Joe Connolly, lower school dean of students, said. “I am also looking forward to watching the relationships develop and seeing the positive benefits each student, young and old, will receive.”
Sarah Leonard, primary division head, was impressed by how quickly the new relationships unfolded during that October morning. “For most, it was instantaneous,” she said. “The buddies clicked, and new friendships were born.” Jeffrey Draper, sophomore class dean, thought it was great to see the care and attention taken by sophomores while working with their little buddies that day.
For Cecilia Lang-Ree, Eagle Buddies offers a chance to meet lower school students outside of her grade 4 sister’s circle of friends. Paired up with Fiona Wiesner, Lang-Ree looks forward to helping her through the rest of her years at the lower school. “I remember being a little kid in the lower grades, and influences from the ‘big kids at Saratoga’ were huge,” Lang-Ree said. “I’m excited and honored to be able to be a friend to one of these awesome kids.”
Eagle Buddies events will continue to happen throughout the year. A special tailgate party was organized before the Homecoming game, allowing the buddies’ parents to meet one another and providing a chance for the buddies to watch a portion of the game against Valley Christian-Dublin.
For Liam Bakar, hanging out with his Big Buddy Robert Deng meant watching Deng, a junior varsity football player, play on the field; they were able to say hello after the game finished. “He’s very nice,” Bakar said of Deng, “and I like a lot of things that he likes.”
In a series of notes, Deng told Bakar his interests in candy and video games and asked Bakar how Halloween went. In response, Bakar wrote him a Thanksgiving card answering questions and sharing more about his own interests.
“When I first heard about the program, I really liked it,” Bakar’s mother, Carla Hindie, said. “Liam is my oldest, and he doesn’t have an older brother. I thought it was great to match him up with somebody who would be able to explain to him stuff that kids might not like talking to their parents about.”
Hindie hopes to organize more opportunities for the two grades to get together. “I’m very happy,” Hindie said. “It’s an amazing idea. All the parents understand that it’s a pilot, so I’m sure that every year there will be more and more great things added to the program.”
In January, buddies will be participating in the lower school’s annual Pajama Day fundraiser, and little buddies will visit the upper school campus in the spring for the spring spirit rally. In between, sophomores will maintain correspondence through letters and invite their buddies to performances and sports events.
“We are a K through 12 school, and watching the interaction that day at Bucknall, all our hopes for the program came true,” Keller said. “We saw hundreds and hundreds of pictures – students throwing sponges, having a good time. When [the kickoff] was over and the upper school kids were on the bus coming back, it was incredible having the kids say, ‘Thanks. This was fun. Thanks for doing this.’”
The only complaint about the new program is that it is limited to third graders and sophomores. Students from other grade levels wish to participate and get involved. “So that’s the good negative comment,” Keller said. “Other people see it, and they want to be involved in it.”
Keller, Zink and Connolly do intend to expand the program. As the 2011-12 school year begins, the Class of 2014 will be paired with buddies from the class of 2022. With the exception of freshmen, who are still adjusting to the upper school, Keller hopes that three classes of buddies will be involved in the program at one time.
“It is my hope that this is the beginning of a long, time-honored tradition,” Leonard said. “The benefits to young and old alike in encouraging communication, promoting responsibility and building and managing relationships cannot be overestimated.”