For many children, the challenges of school life can take a heavy toll. Between academic expectations and social pressures, students can find themselves struggling with feelings of loneliness and abandonment. Fortunately, many K-12 schools are finding a path for fostering student collaboration and community using buddy systems.
Whether it’s the pairing of older students with younger companions, or teaming up special and general education students, these buddy systems are helping students feel more at home within their student community.
How Buddy Programs Work
In an article for the National Education Association, Angela Johnston, a fourth-grade teacher in Pennsylvania, explains how the buddy system has worked in her classroom.
Of the 26 students in Johnston’s class, 10 are identified as Learning Support and three as Gifted and Talented. The remaining 13 children are working at average or above-average levels.
Johnston says her classroom buddy system operates in this manner:
- I have assigned each identified student a buddy and manage my classroom on the buddy system. This works really well because it makes all students responsible for their own work.
- The buddies check up on each other, and my work is cut in half.
- We also provide homework trackers within the school for each student, so my buddies make sure each one has his/her homework assignment before leaving the classroom for the day.
- During my silent reading period each day the buddies read to each other. OK, it’s not exactly SILENT, but everyone is reading and it works really well.
Johnston concludes the article by reporting, “You will not believe the independence it [the buddy program] has created for all students and how close these students have become. I have found I have time to chat with each team of buddies weekly and give praise. Self-esteem has risen tremendously and peer acceptance has increased. They have become protectors of each other.”
Buddy Programs Are Beneficial to All
A buddy program that’s been going strong in Rowland Heights, California — the Jaguars at Jellick Elementary School. Principal John Staumont tells Parentology students from different grades and educational programs “buddy up in a variety of ways to promote self-esteem, self-efficacy, and promote a more tolerant and inclusive culture.”
“Our upper-grade students will often work with primary grade students,” Staumont explains. “They read to them or support them with technology.”
In turn, these collaborations can help older students looking to gain a sense of purpose within the student community. “The students see themselves as part of our wider school culture and making a difference for others,” Staumont says. “It’s a win-win.”
In addition to collaborations between grades, Jellick also fosters partnerships between general education and special education students as a way to “integrate and mainstream our students into our general education population as much as possible,” Staumont says.
“General education students are often the ‘buddy’ of our special education students throughout the day. These buddies allow our special education students to learn from the social modeling of their general education peers. It also fosters a goal of inclusivity in our diverse student population.”
Adding Technology to the Mix
For Principal Staumont, the culmination of the sense of community engendered by Jellick’s buddy partnerships is JJTV, a weekly video bulletin put together by students from all grades and programs. “Older students seek out students for the broadcast,” he says. “We use this to introduce new students and share birthdays.”
JJTV also includes a weather channel contributed to by students from different backgrounds.” “It’s one of the ways we amplify student voices, create content and further 21st-century skills,” Staumont explains. In the works for the 2019-2020 school year — student podcasts.
School can be especially difficult for students who struggle academically or socially, but schools like Jellick Elementary are taking substantial steps toward making sure that each and every student is encouraged to participate in their student community by encouraging an atmosphere of collaboration. The success of these collaborations across grades and across programs demonstrates just how big a difference a buddy can make to a student in need.
How School Buddy Programs Benefit Kids: Sources
Principal John Staumont, Jellick Elementary in Rowland Heights, California
National Education Association (NEA): Buddy System
Whitby: How a School Buddy System Builds School Community and Confidence in Kids