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Hopewells Buddy Up to Build Each Other Up

Hopewells Buddy Up to Build Each Other Up

After just three interactions amounting to no more than an hour and a half together, Hopewell Early Childhood School first-grader Siima Kibuuka looked affectionately at her partner, Hopewell Junior eighth-grader MJ Demcho, and said, “Yeah, we’re friends.” 

This is exactly the outcome both schools hoped for when they came together to reignite their mentor program this year. 

“Right now, our main goal is to give our kids a chance to build strong relationships with older kids,” said Hopewell ECS Assistant Principal Melissa Myers, who worked alongside Hopewell Junior health teacher Lori Jones to reimagine the program that paused last school year during the height of the pandemic. 

“They are all highly empathetic, positive and motivated human beings,” said Jones of the group of 20 students she advises for Sources of Strength, the junior school’s peer-to-peer mental health program. This same group serves as the mentors who visit their new friends at Hopewell ECS every Monday for half an hour during their daily “T-Hawk Time.” 

Jones said that her group has been quick to embrace their role as peer mentors and role models among their peers. But the new buddy program, she explained, takes them outside their comfort zone and is an opportunity to practice their role modeling skills to positively impact another community. She reiterated the program’s early goal to simply establish rapport. 

“I’ve explained that it’s important for their younger partners to realize that there are people out there who are caring and will listen and show them that they’re special,” Jones said. “It’s no different than their role here at Hopewell Junior.” 

For now, the Hopewell ECS team rolls out a cart outfitted with a whole host of games, books and coloring books. The first-graders, nominated by their teachers, pair up with their older buddy, find a spot on the floor and chat while they play or color. Eventually, the format might evolve to include more structured group activities, but building that foundation is an important first step. 

“We just hang out and talk about whatever they want to talk about,” Demcho said. 

It is through this simple process that the ECS students practice problem-solving strategies and conversational skills, shared two others who are helping coordinate the program - Hopewell ECS guidance counselor Aly McIntosh and school psychologist Hannah Hurd, who serves both Hopewell’s early childhood and junior school students. In some cases, students might be practicing their English speaking skills. 

But the bigger kids get just as much out of the experience. 

“They look forward to it. It brings them so much happiness and builds up their confidence and self-esteem,” Jones said. “Their enthusiasm is how I measure the program’s success. As long as they’re excited about it, we’ll continue to do it.”