The beginning of a new school year can be intimidating for any student, but is especially so for incoming kindergartners.
As the youngest students in the school there’s a lot to learn, like finding their new classroom, meeting new teachers and riding the bus for the first time. To help ease this transition period, officials at Glenmont Elementary came up with the Bus Buddies program.
“The first month of school can be very scary for kindergartens,” said Principal Laura Heffernan. “It’s one of the first times they don’t have an adult sitting right there with them, so we thought we’d ask the fifth graders to buddy up on the ride to and from school.”
The program began last year through the efforts of school counselor Michelle Lavigne.
In June, fourth-graders who wished to participate in the program went through a short training course. The students role-played different scenarios in preparation. They learned how to talk to their buddy, how to help them find their seat and how to calm them if they began to feel upset. The older students were asked to seek advice from an adult if the kindergartner needed help or began to make poor choices.
“The fifth-graders have risen to the challenge and embraced this new leadership responsibility,” said Lavigne. “The program is a benefit to both sets of students because it’s not only a leadership opportunity but also teaches problem-solving skills, empathy and compassion.”
A letter was sent home to kindergartners and their families at the beginning of the year that included the name of their new buddies. Matches were made according to bus route, with some fifth-graders having two buddies or vice versa depending on the number of students per bus.
The students are asked to talk about family, friends, pets and their favorite activities. Some fifth-graders have also borrowed books from the library to read to their buddies while on the bus.
“Having a buddy diminishes the stress and anxiety and helps the kindergartners to feel more at ease,” said Lavigne.
The buddy system is scheduled to run through the end of October, but since it’s a pilot program, Heffernan said it could run longer if students feel it’s needed.
Some students said they will be sad to see the program end.
“I think it’s going to be really hard to say goodbye,” said Ryan Reynolds, 10, of his buddy, Jack. “I think I might still want to sit with him. Hopefully, he’ll still want to sit with me because he might get bored of me.”
Reynolds said he lives a few houses away from his buddy so he’s starting to see him outside of school to play baseball. On the bus, they’ve been reading books, playing with Tech Deck skateboards and talking about school.
“I think they should keep doing the program because for kindergartners coming into school, everyone’s like giants, and they don’t really know anybody,” said Reynolds.
Maggie Bryngelson, 10, agreed.
“When I was a kindergartner I remember being so scared, but also excited at the some time,” she said. “I didn’t really want to talk to anyone about it though, because, like, no one asked.”
Bryngelson said she didn’t want to participate at first because she didn’t think the kindergartners would listen to them or want to talk. That changed after she met her buddy.
“She’s really cool. I like it now,” said Bryngelson.
Heffernan said the program has exceeded officials’ expectations, and the plan for now is to do it again next year. Lavigne said they would also be willing to help other elementary schools in the district start their own program.
“I feel like it has been a wonderful program that has added immensely to our school community, “ said Lavigne. “It’s something any school could adopt with the appropriate training, and help from staff and parents.”