This article originally appeared in the spring 2015 Harker Quarterly.
The much-anticipated Jan. 16 arrival of grade 10 students to the lower school campus signaled the start of two beloved annual Harker happenings: the schoolwide Pajama Day assembly and grade 3 Eagle Buddies get-together.
The sophomore students participated in the assembly as part of the Eagle Buddies program. Held in the gym, the event celebrated a grade 3 service project in which students collected items to donate to the Pajama Program (www.pajamaprogram.org), a national nonprofit organization dedicated to providing new sleepwear and books to kids waiting to be adopted.
For the past eight years, to make life a bit better for children living in local shelters, the lower school has donated countless pairs of pajamas and boxes of books to the program. Over the years, Harker has contributed thousands of new items, according to representatives of the Pajama Program’s local chapter.
Although the drive was primarily a grade 3 effort, all elementary school families were invited to participate by dropping off items in the gym’s lobby. Prior to the assembly, Ken Allen, lower school dean of students, urged parents to encourage their children to bring a pair of never-worn pajamas or a new book to donate to the program, noting that each “small donation will go a long way for someone who is less fortunate.”
The assembly occurred on a special dress pajama day, when all the students and faculty were encouraged to wear their favorite jammies to school. The program got underway with Butch Keller, upper school head, reading from the book “The Most Magnificent Thing” by award-winning author and illustrator Ashley Spires. Students enjoyed hearing the story, and seemed equally enthralled with seeing Keller donning a comfy robe and slippers, seated in a rocking chair on the stage.
“Raise your hand if you brought a book for your Eagle Buddy to read,” said Keller, after he finished the story. A bunch of eager hands went up. Shortly after, the third grade students had the opportunity to read with their upper school Eagle Buddies, who had also been encouraged to bring items to donate to the Pajama Program.
Wearing a colorful assortment of robes, pajamas, slippers and snuggly knit hats, the grade 3 students and their big buddies then headed outdoors for a pizza lunch, socializing and field games.
“I have a little sister at home, so I am used to being around younger kids. However, it is always the same group of younger kids – her friends – so I really liked getting to know a totally new group of lower school students through this program,” said Kshithija Mulam, grade 10.
Mulam’s grade 3 pal, Alisha Jain, said “I like hanging out with my buddies. I really liked doing the relay races together. That was a lot of fun.”
Jain’s other buddy, sophomore Vienna Wang, observed that “being an Eagle Buddy is a great stress reliever. You get to act like a kid again!”
Keller created the Eagle Buddies program to help bridge the upper and lower school campus divide. The buddies stay together for three years, until the sophomores graduate and the third graders matriculate into middle school.