Each year our graduates give the graduation speeches: original, heartfelt, full of humor, brimming with gratitude, and invariably with warm reference to their buddies. At Free Union, each student has one—a younger or older student with whom they form a special relationship. But COVID-19 and the need for social distance has prompted a rethinking of how we do Buddies.
Before the pandemic, which now demands scrupulous physical separation of grades and cohorts, buddies would meet to read together, work on projects, hang out on a playground, eat lunch together, and connect across age differences. Younger kids would see what reading fluency looked like as an older buddy read a story with them. And they would delight at seizing the occasion to holler to an older buddy from the porch. Older buddies learned patience and empathy for smaller humans as they grew into the role of mentor.
Much of the traditional buddy relationship at Free Union centered around reading together. Not only is reading across the grades important to the strengthening of the overall school community, but it has demonstrable effects on child development. Reading builds confidence, improves concentration, sharpens critical and analytical thinking skills, strengthens memory, and expands vocabulary. And for almost every student, buddy time is a chance to have fun and make a new friend.
At Free Union, buddy relationships have extended beyond just one school year as powerful connections form.
But what to do during a pandemic that has scuttled the buddies program? In April 2021 enter Pen Pal Buddies, a way to still get to know someone in another grade. Teachers have carefully assigned buddies and every buddy has received one letter so far this April. The letter writing is new. Second and third graders have Preschool and Pre-K students as buddies while Fourth and Fifth Graders have a mix of kindergartners and First Graders.
As we gain experience with the new program we will post updates. Meanwhile, below is an example of a fourth grader’s letter of introduction to a kindergartner.