Students ‘buddy up’ to build school community

Two groups of Fayetteville-Manlius School District students are discovering that when it comes to forming friendships, the focus should be on what unites us rather than divides us.

For the fourth year in a row, Eagle Hill Middle School’s eighth-grade Family and Consumer Science (FACS) students are pairing up with Enders Road Elementary School kindergarteners as part of a special “buddy” program that enhances academic lessons while promoting relationship building and character development.

The program, which is organized and advised by Eagle Hill FACS teacher Robin Brenner, is implemented twice each school year (once per middle school semester) and was established to help FACS students learn about child development as it relates to five- and six-year-old students. A benefit of the program is that it provides all participants with a chance to develop their communication and interpersonal relationship skills, according to Mrs. Brenner.

“Throughout the project, students learn how to share in meaningful activities together while forging positive relationships,” Mrs. Brenner said. “They spend time engaging in conversations, reading books together and learning about one another.”

Program focuses on character development, academic gains

During the first semester of this school year, more than 60 Enders’ kindergarten students were paired with an eighth-grade buddy as part of the partnership program. During each meeting together, the buddy groups worked on a collaborative writing project that highlighted their visits together, among other activities.

When the two groups gathered for a third and final time in December, eighth-graders presented their buddies with a special gift: a hand-sewn pillow with a memory book tucked inside the cushion’s front pocket. The teens made the pillows during FACS class and produced the books using the writing pieces and illustrations the buddies created together.

“Making a pillow with your own hands and knowing that your buddy will cherish it for years to come is a simple, yet profound action,” Mrs. Brenner said.

Although the buddy project was established in 2014, this is the first year eighth-graders are making reading pillows. Earlier this school year, Mrs. Brenner applied for and was awarded an FM Education Foundation grant for the project, which was used to cover the costs of pillow-making supplies.

“My hope is to foster a community connection between Eagle Hill and Enders Road students,” Mrs. Brenner said. “Helping students better understand themselves and others, while giving them an opportunity to demonstrate the character strengths we believe in at F-M, is my passion as a teacher.”

To their delight, the younger students were given an opportunity to “test” their pillows as soon as they received them. Mrs. Brenner read one of her favorite books aloud to both student groups at the conclusion of their last meeting together.

The collaborative buddy project supports several components of the district’s mission and priority areas, including building on the commitment to academic excellence with a focus on authentic learning experiences, civic responsibility and innovative programs, as well as maintaining a positive school environment and cultivating community partnerships.

This school year, a total of 175 students are participating in the program, including 107 kindergartners and 68 eighth-graders. The next cohort of buddies will meet in February.

The images below were captured in December during the last buddy visit shared between Eagle Hill eighth-graders and Enders Road students from Diane Lewis’s kindergarten class.