Who’s your buddy?

This year I am in the privileged position of having a child in Year 6 and a child starting kindergarten (with another one in between). The reason I feel lucky about this is not just because I will finally get the much coveted school photo featuring all of my kids at once, but because I’ve been able to witness the buddy system at St Benedict’s Primary School, Edgeworth, from two perspectives.

It has been a joy to share my daughter’s excitement as she waited to find out who her ‘little’ buddy would be, watch as she met Aria for the first time and feel proud to see Sienna and her Year 5 classmates being so attentive and caring to their young friends.

I have also witnessed the excitement of my son as he bonds with his ‘big’ buddy Jack and talks about him at home or watches him play handball before school starts, casually hanging out with the big kids. Whenever we see him, Caleb’s face lights up.

Having a buddy is obviously a significant thing for both the ‘big’ and ‘little’ buddy and something I think is invaluable for a multitude of reasons.

For the older child, being a buddy signals the beginning of a real leadership role at school and for the younger child having a buddy provides them with an anchor in the school setting – a setting that must seem tremendously large to a 4 or 5-year-old.

Even for children like my son, who has literally grown up at the school, starting kindergarten can be an overwhelming proposition. In term four last year, to help ensure a smooth transition this year, the new kindergarten children met their buddies and were presented with a T-shirt stating, “I’m going to St Benedict’s Edgeworth next year.” Over the course of a number of orientation sessions the buddies played games together, visited the classrooms, toured the school grounds and came to know each other. Spending that quality time with their buddy last year will make the first days and weeks at school much easier.

Aaron Heard, Aria’s father, has nothing but praise for the buddy system.

“It allows the kids starting school to feel more confident, knowing they have a relationship with one of the senior kids,” said Aaron.

For me, it’s knowing that Caleb will have someone other than his sisters to look out for him, someone he can watch and learn from and lean on if necessary.

Watching Jack with Caleb and Sienna with Aria has been enjoyable. Jack, the youngest in his family, seems pleasantly surprised by this little human who wants to ‘dab’, hug and play handball with him. Sienna, the proverbial eldest child, is bringing her toolbox of tricks to the relationship, well used to looking out for younger ones, but this time for one who doesn’t ever annoy her (a welcome change!).

Jack and Sienna agree that being a buddy is fantastic.

“The best thing about being a buddy is how it helps you to be a leader. The little kids are so cute and they ask really funny questions,” said Jack.

“It’s great being able to help someone and I have loved the feeling you get when you know that your buddy is looking up to you,” said Sienna.

Who doesn’t love being adored?

Religious Education Co-ordinator at St Benedict’s, Michelle Collins, plays an integral role in helping the Year 5 students prepare for their buddy role each year.

“Prior to meeting their buddy for the first time the Year 5 children meet with the kindergarten teachers several times to discuss their responsibilities as buddies, the dos and don’ts of being a great buddy and how to meet and greet parents. After each buddy visit we meet for a debriefing and Q & A session to discuss any issues and celebrate our successes,” said Michelle.

Michelle believes there are many advantages of the buddy program for both the older and younger children.

“The older children gain a sense of responsibility. They realise that this impressionable and often scared little person is relying on them to help them settle into ‘big’ school. The older children also often exhibit a real pride in their school, especially when first meeting the parents of the little ones. It’s almost like they are saying, ‘Look at me, it’s going to be ok, I’ve been here six years and I’m doing well.’

“I think the younger ones appreciate having someone who ‘knows the ropes’ looking out for them. It is very daunting for them. The bond they form with their buddy is very special. When preparing to become a buddy, the Year 5 students often reminisce about their own experiences starting school and tell stories about their buddy. It is often a bond that transcends the first year of school. Many keep in touch with their buddy even once they have moved on to high school,” said Michelle.

While the school has processes in place to ensure that the kindergarten children do not become overly reliant on their buddy, Michelle emphasised that it’s a positive experience for all involved.

“It is such a joy for the older children to be caring for someone else and they really do enjoy the time they spend with their little person. They often refer to it as the highlight of their year. At the same time they encourage the younger ones to build friendships with their peers,” said Michelle. 

At consequent meetings after the ‘Meet Your Buddy Day’ last year, you would either see the little ones anxiously looking around for their buddy when they arrived for orientations or the older kids racing up from their classrooms to greet their little friends. The sense of excitement each time was palpable. My daughters still treasure photos and gifts they received from their respective buddies.

The buddy system is truly a valuable one that brings out the best in the older children and nourishes the confidence of the younger ones. It enhances community and friendships and gives the older children a chance to exhibit the Gospel values they have been learning about for years.

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Joanne Isaac Image
Joanne Isaac

Joanne is a Communications Officer for the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle and a regular columnist for Aurora Magazine.

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