By Madison Hakey
It’s been more than 40 years since the Buddy Program was created at Champlain Valley Union High School (CVU). Based off of the Big Brother, Big Sister mentoring program, the Buddy Program brings CVU sophomores, juniors and seniors together with elementary age children in Williston, Shelburne, Charlotte and Hinesburg.
CVU students give up a free block during their day to help out a child in the classroom who the teacher picks out. The child could be anyone who the teacher thinks could benefit from a big buddy. MaryAnne Gatos, the community learning coordinator at CVU, said, “A lot of little kids in Buddy are going through normal challenges—parents getting divorced, or they move, or their best friend now wants to play with somebody else. All of these traumas, some are big traumas and some are little, but you have to help the student feel good about themselves so they can develop resilience.”
Big buddies don’t just help the child deal with everyday challenges, they help with so much more than that. “The younger buddy really starts to feel more confident and comfortable because of the undivided attention they get,” Gatos said. “You feel important if somebody shows up to be with you. There’s also some skill development. Buddies sometimes help with skill development like making choices, how to spend time, how to create friendships, as well as math and reading, and liking school. So having an older buddy who is a role model for enjoying school, enjoying learning, interested in other people, is a really valuable thing.”
Big buddies also show their students what it is like to be in a caring relationship where they get as much attention as they need, and everyone needs that. The student is not the only one who gets something out of this program. As a big buddy, the gains are countless.
Gatos said, “The main thing is they move from being the focus to being a provider. So you realize your responsibility in taking care of others. So you get a chance to give and that feels good.”
It feels good to help out someone else and give advice. For big buddies, the challenges that the students go through are familiar so buddies are able to give advice and empathize with students, and that feels great. Big buddies learn to communicate with small children better as well, which is always good to know, and they learn how to be a good role model. Buddies are in a risk-free environment where they can learn and gain experience. Big buddies learn these lessons and more when they give up their time to make a student’s day a little brighter.
An example of this is senior Erica Rosner, who had a big buddy when she was in first and second grade. Rosner’s buddy became her babysitter, and kept in contact with her long after Rosner was finished with elementary school. “She called me the first day of freshman year and she invited me to her baby shower,” she said. “So I had a really good experience with my buddy, and wanted to be able to do the same thing.”
Rosner was a big buddy during her junior year, and loved the experience. “I love the fact that you can influence someone else. It’s a really good way for high schoolers to get out and really connect with the community. We have all these fundraising things, but this is really one-on-one,” she said.
Rosner went on to say that she enjoyed the connection big buddies can make with their students. “It’s a mentoring program, but it’s more than that because you are closer to their age so you can really become more of their friend.”
Rosner felt this connection was solidified at the end-of-the-semester celebration, where big buddies get to welcome students into their lives as the students have welcomed them into theirs. The students are able to come to the big, scary high school with someone they know and trust.
Gatos summarized the level of trust, “You watch the younger buddies walk in the door of an unfamiliar school and you can see that they’re a little hesitant, and then they see their buddy in the hallway and they are immediately comforted, and that is the coolest thing.”
In this moment, it is easy to see the impact the Buddy Program has on the younger students. Currently, the Buddy Program is only impacting 20 to 25 students each semester. Some years,” Gatos said, “there have been between 70 and 20, but the number has averaged out around 23.”
However, the more students, the better. Each school would be happy to take 20 big buddies each, but there are just not enough CVU students with the time to volunteer, or the knowledge that this program exists. It is easy to join, the impacts on both the big buddy and student is endless, and it only takes two hours out of the week, so why not?