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6th Grade Buddy Program: A Leadership Tradition Helping Generations of Students Connect and Disconnect

On the third Wednesday of the school year, we assembled the class of 2022 in the Library Courtyard. Each senior was holding a sign, not unlike a limousine driver making an airport pickup. Then Greenhills’ newest sixth-grade class came out of the building and joined our seniors in the courtyard. Some ran forward when they saw their names; others walked shyly. Some couldn’t find their names at all, but with the help of the onlooking teachers, before long, every sixth grader had found their name.

It was the launch of the Sixth Grade Buddies program, which, as sixth-grade team leaders and the senior dean, we have the privilege of running. Every year, each sixth grader is connected with a senior buddy, who serves as a combined role model, tour guide, and friendly competitor. For the sixth grade, it’s a chance to make a deeper connection with their new school, and to learn about life at Greenhills from those who’ve lived it. For the seniors, meanwhile, it’s an opportunity to serve as a mentor and a role model, and to pass on the lessons they’ve accumulated in their years at Greenhills. It’s also a break from the worries and fixations that college applications can bring, and a chance to remember that, while they may be the oldest students in the building, they’re still kids too — at least for a little while longer.

The process doesn’t come together overnight. In May, the rising senior class elects its class officers. One of their main leadership responsibilities is running the Sixth Grade Buddies program. Once the sixth-grade class is fully assembled, we can get to work on actually setting the program up. The first week of school, each senior filled out a survey. We used the results to pair up seniors and sixth graders who shared some common interests. Then, after our library courtyard buddy unveiling, we launched the program with a bang: a school-wide scavenger hunt.

We love using the scavenger hunt to kick off the program because it combines our goals perfectly. As the buddy pairs work through their checklists, making stops all over the building, sixth graders get a tour of school from a senior perspective. There’s also plenty of time between stops to talk: time for younger students to ask questions, and for older students to answer them. And of course, it’s all a lot of fun.

On the surface, it might seem that the Buddies program is mostly for sixth graders, to help them get acclimated to Greenhills and give them role models to follow. Sure enough, the program is helpful and fun for sixth graders, because our seniors do an excellent job. The seniors, through a combination of excellent class officers, strong senses of tradition and responsibility, and memories of their own senior mentors from years before, know how to run the program the right way, and always treat the responsibility of leadership and being a role model with all the respect it deserves. It’s a proud moment every year when we watch the respect and dedication our seniors have for the program; it affirms that on their way through Greenhills, they’ve learned how to be good leaders, role models, and mentors. Our sixth graders enjoy it immensely. We get requests for senior buddies events every single day, and if we could run senior buddies events every day, I don’t think our sixth graders would ever get tired of them. The program certainly builds connections that last: one of us (Ms. Scheinberg) is still in contact with both her senior buddy from when she was in sixth grade and her sixth grade buddy from when she was a senior.

Of course, it helps that the seniors enjoy the program every bit as much as our sixth graders do. It’s an opportunity for leadership and passing on lessons: every question a senior wishes they’d had answered in sixth grade becomes a question that a new generation of sixth graders does have answered in sixth grade. The program is also a nice change of pace. It can be hard to escape from the stresses of senior year when you’re only around other seniors. Even if you’re eating lunch or playing frisbee, your friends might still have their minds completely tied up by that one nagging application question. Sixth grade buddies provide the perfect escape from all those worries. When you’re playing Battleship or making paper airplanes with a sixth grader, who knows what they’ll be talking about? We can think of one thing they won’t be talking about: common app essays.

Over the course of the year, sixth graders will meet with their senior buddies once every two weeks for a variety of fun, teamwork-based events. We’ll carve pumpkins, build paper airplanes, and hopefully decorate sugar cookies in December. We’ll have discussions, games, and activities. When the seniors make their traditional run through the halls on their last day of school in May, their last stop before leaving Greenhills will be the sixth grade forum, where they’ll see their buddies one last time.

But the buddy program isn’t restricted to official, once-every-other-week meetings. Some of the best moments of our days are when we see a pair of buddies spot each other at school, perhaps in the library or on the field, and see one run toward the other, eyes lighting up. It’s another sign that our seniors, as they always manage to do, have done the program right. We take a hands-off approach to managing the program: we make sure events run smoothly and everyone is paired up, but the senior class officers, and the entire senior class, are the ones who actually make things happen. It’s extremely rewarding every year to observe the growth and maturity our seniors demonstrate as they take on this leadership opportunity and do excellent work, all while having lots of fun themselves.

It’s especially rewarding to watch this year, with our sixth graders and seniors back in the building together. We ran the program virtually last year — buddies met on Zoom once every two weeks; they shared all sorts of interesting conversations, and played lots of “Among Us” — and while we still managed to build connections and provide a mentorship opportunity to our seniors, there’s no substitute for being in the same space together. This year, the program is getting a fresh start. Back in person again, we’re taking the opportunity to freshen it up and reinvent it. We’ve encouraged our seniors to be creative and think outside the box with their ideas for buddy activities, and we’re already working on several things that we hope our students will love.

That doesn’t mean we’re getting rid of the old program traditions, though. Pumpkin carving is coming up, just like it does every year. Our seniors bring in hollowed-out pumpkins: every year, we get a few pumpkins that have to be hauled in on wheelbarrows, and a few that look more like orange tomatoes. We’ll set our pairs of buddies up in the tent outside the theater and get to work.

For just a little while, the frenetic life of school and the outside world will disappear. All that will matter to each pair will be the pumpkin in front of them, how they’re going to carve it, and the friendship that’s developing between the two carvers. And whether you’re applying to college or just starting sixth grade, there’s a special place for moments like that.

Written by

Nina Scheinberg Department Chair; Academic Scheduler; Teacher
Karin Scott 6th Grade Team Leader
Andy Wicklund Teacher
Saturday, April 24
Open to anyone ages 16 and up. Limited quantities available.
Greenhills is closed for mid-winter break and will return on Tuesday, Feb. 22.

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