Carlisle School fosters student-to-student mentoring

by Karina Coombs

Mentoring has long been considered an invaluable tool for success at all age levels. The Carlisle School uses mentoring throughout most grades, as well as in the language department, to provide students help with making both social and educational connections.

Making the transition to school can be difficult for some five- and six-year olds. To help make it a more positive experience at the Carlisle School, each kindergartner is paired with a third- or fourth-grade student as part of a school mentoring or “buddy” program. Because there are significantly more students in kindergarten than in third grade this year, one kindergarten classroom will pair with a classroom of fourth graders.

The buddy program is also used in the other elementary and middle school grades. First-grade students are paired with fourth graders. Second-grade teacher Linda Vanaria explained that second-grade students are paired with both fifth and eighth graders, with the students working together on several projects. In addition to being buddies to the second graders, students in eighth grade also act as mentors or tutors for younger students. “There are currently eighth graders mentoring sixth graders in math and language arts,” explained eighth-grade language arts teacher Marcella Pixley.

Kindergarten buddies

“It’s fulfilling to have an older friend and see the kids in school, at Kimball's, or on the bus,” explained kindergarten teacher Barney Arnold. Arnold recently spent one morning working with third-grade teacher Aria Niemierko. They discussed the personalities and interests of their respective students in order to create compatible buddy groupings. In addition to helping kindergartners connect and relate to older students at the school, the program also allows the children an opportunity to see a model of appropriate school behavior and receive support from someone closer to their age as opposed to another adult figure. 

“They keep asking, ‘When are we going to meet our buddies?’” said Niemierko of her students, many of whom remember when they were the kindergartners with an older buddy. For the older students, having a younger buddy encourages a role model type of behavior. Before the two groups meet, Niemierko talks with her students about the importance of being a good buddy, reminding them that the kindergartners will be watching them to see how to behave. The class will also do some role-playing, preparing for various scenarios they may encounter with their individual buddies, such as a kindergartner who may not want to talk. “It’s fascinating to see them as buddies,” said Niemierko. “They take it seriously.”

The monthly 30-minute meetings in the kindergarten classrooms involve either a specific activity, board games or just playing outside. The students also get a chance to incorporate what they are learning in their respective grades, whether it is guided reading for the kindergarten students or letter writing for the third graders. Both teachers look for learning and buddy opportunities throughout the year, often sending one another emails with ideas on future activities. “Learning is more meaningful when it has a purpose [and is] motivating,” explained Arnold.

Toward the end of the academic year, both groups of students will typically mark the occasion in some way. Arnold explained that in years past the students would trade cards or friendship pins. “We are creating a K-4 community in a K-8 school.” she said. “It is a bond that lasts beyond the years.”

Language programs

Chinese language teacher Chiao Bin Huang also uses buddies in her language program. Current kindergarten students will receive Chinese language instruction for the next five years, through fourth grade. Fifth grade provides students with a chance to sample each language offered at the school (Chinese, French and Spanish), before students choose the language they would like to focus on starting in sixth grade.

Both elementary and middle school students have pen pal buddies they will exchange letters and drawings with throughout the year. Huang has each student make a mailbox and buddies are selected by displaying student photos on the active board. “In the past I have the middle school students pick the younger grade,” explained Huang. “This year I was surprised that the eighth grade students told me to let the third graders pick them!”

This year also marks the first year that third graders will have kindergarten buddies as part of the Chinese instruction program. “They are so excited that they are no longer the youngest in Chinese class,” said Huang. The third graders have been discussing with Huang how to be good buddies with the kindergartners and she has been impressed by their intentions to be nice to the students, not to make fun of drawings or misspelled words and to answer letters quickly. “These considerations are showing me that the third-grade students have learned their responsibility and caring through this project.” ∆