Big buddies provide welcome leadership

Elementary students find mentors in the Harwood-Seaton Big Buddy Program

A group of elementary students from Harwood are working on improving their social, motor and language skills, but if you ask any of them what they like best about spending time with high school students at Seaton secondary, it’s all about fun.

The Grade 2 to 5 students have spent the past five weeks taking part in what Harwood resource teacher Ryan Aujla calls the Harwood-Seaton Big Buddy Program, where he takes 11 boys to spend time with Seaton students in Grades 9 to 12.

“It’s been fun to get away from school and we’ve been doing some pretty good stuff,” said Grade 3 student Tyler Lewis. “I was a little nervous at first to come to high school, but it’s been fun.”

Aujla said the program is a way of thinking outside of the box and giving kids experiences outside of the classroom.

“The intent of the program is to provide small group instruction in natural settings to increase language skills, social skills and gross and fine motor skills,” said Aujla. “And of course, the kids adore the attention they get from the high school kids.”

Grade 11 student Shai Baker has enjoyed spending time with the Harwood students on their weekly visits to Seaton.

“I like to volunteer with it, I like to hang out with little kids and help them with life and show them skills that could help them in the future,” said Baker, 17. “It’s a way of making a lot of friends too, because in this world you need a lot of friends.”

Seaton resource teacher Shelley Henry said the program provides a good opportunity for her students to work on leadership and role modeling to youth.

“I am hoping my students will gain confidence in themselves,” she said. “They are not often given opportunity to be leaders. They have learned how to help the students overcome social conflicts and to help them problem-solve.

“I have also seen them have to teach the students new concepts in some of the games that we play with the kids and the activities and crafts that they have tried with them.”

Henry said her students are enjoying the program and find it rewarding to be able to help others and they take pride in the youngsters as they try new activities.

“It’s a good feeling for them that the kids are so excited to see them each week,” she said. “They are very excited to go to the pool with them next week!”

Aujla credits Henry with the work she has done in organizing fun activities for the students each week.

“The program has been a huge success and the boys that I have taken from Harwood look forward to visiting their big buddies every week,” he said. “I find kids really relate well to each other and with peer-to-peer interaction, because they get enough of adults talking to them in school all day. We wanted the boys to have that mentorship piece.

“Each day has been different and each week they look forward to it. They’re able to go back the next day and some of them are able to write about it in their journal and reflect about it and they come back with big smiles and now every kid I see at school asks me, ‘Are you going to Seaton today?’ I think that if any elementary school that has a high school nearby does something like this it goes a long way, so not only are our students at Harwood benefiting from it, but you can tell Shelley’s students are as well, as they get that leadership role.”

With Harwood education assistant Sean Chippendale, Aujla and his students will wrap up the program June 21. On their first visit, students enjoyed a school tour, visiting Seaton’s auto shop, woodshop, rock wall, theatre, gym, weight room, foods room and resource room.

“For my boys, being able to come with me and Mr. Chippendale, just that 10, 15-minute walk over is great,” said Aujla.

Other activities have included arts and crafts, where the youngsters were able to engrave their names or a message into a block of wood using an electric engraver, before painting it and taking it home. Soccer in the Seaton field with their big buddies proved to be a big hit as well, followed by board games in the resource room.

For Grade 3 student Calum MacDonald, spending time at high school doesn’t make him nervous because his sister used to go to Seaton.

“We’ve done lots of fun activities but not doing math is the best part and the tour was the best part because we got to see the wood shop and the car shop,” he said.

For the final two visits, students will go swimming at the Vernon Recreation Centre, thanks to funding from the Vernon School District’s Student Support Services.