When Central School's fifth-graders were in the first grade at Dewey School, they were paired with older students with whom they visited as a class several times during the year. Together, they read books, worked on math problems and wrote stories.

When Central School’s fifth-graders were in the first grade at Dewey School, they were paired with older students with whom they visited as a class several times during the year. Together, they read books, worked on math problems and wrote stories.
As first-graders, they looked up to the older students; and, the older students surprised themselves to discover that they had the ability to teach a lesson to a younger student.
Today, those younger students are now fifth-graders and they, themselves, are the ones now given the opportunity to share their knowledge with younger students. It’s part of the two schools’ Reading Buddies program.
The program began many years ago through the efforts of fifth-grade teacher Donna Good. Among the first students participating in the program was Andrea Marriott, who is now a first-grade teacher at Dewey School.
The program continued for many years, but ceased when Good started teaching another grade. However, the program was brought back when Good returned to fifth-grade and Marriott, who is Good’s daughter-in-law, began teaching first grade.
“When she started teaching first-grade, we decided that this was something we wanted to start up again,” Good said.
The Reading Buddies get together about every six weeks. Sometimes, they meet at Central School, and other times at Dewey School. Regardless of the location, their time together is something both groups of students enjoy.
Both groups, also, reap benefits from the program.
“They get to be the teacher,” Good said of the fifth-grade students. “One of the best ways to learn something is to have to teach it. It reinforces what they know and it makes them a stronger problem-solver because they have to explain it.”
The older students also assume a leadership role.
“Rather than being just part of the class, they are a leader,” she said. “They are helping a child.”
Since the grades are divided throughout the school district — kindergarten and first at one school, second and third in another, and fourth and fifth in yet another building, the younger students’ interaction with older students is limited. With the Reading Buddies program, the younger students have positive interaction with older students.
“When they go to Central, they see the stuff those kids do,” Dewey School Principal Abby Smith said. “That plants the seeds for them to know that they will become fifth graders.”
Students teaching students can be an effective way of learning.
“My first-graders are like sponges,” Smith said. “They think all the fifth-graders are rock stars. They absorb all they say.”
Marriott says her students are exposed to positive role models through the Reading Buddies program.
“It’s a good experience for them,” she said. “They get to see older students who are reading and writing and being successful. It’s something for them to look forward to and know why they need to work hard.”
On a recent trip to Dewey School, the fifth-graders helped the younger students research topics, use the table of contents, the index and how to look for bold print to find important parts of a story. The program gives younger students more opportunities for deeper learning, tackling challenging texts and projects that otherwise a teacher may not be able to address for the class as a whole.
“From a teacher’s perspective, it’s great to have the extra hands,” Marriott said.
Recently, the first-grade students were working on opinion writing. After hearing a story read to them at Central School, the younger students partnered with their older Reading Buddies. Together, they talked about the story and the younger students gave their opinions about the outcome of that story and provided statements supporting their opinions.
The Reading Buddies program involves all students in the first and fifth grades and is organized by the teachers.
“They do a stellar job putting it all together,” Smith said.
The groups also work on craft projects together and other fun activities, such as a recent Easter egg hunt using math word problems. Occasionally, the Reading Buddies will exchange letters.
Marriott, now 28, still remembers her reading buddy.
“I would go to sporting events and Hornet games and I would see my Reading Buddy,” she recalled.
Good said she appreciates the district’s support of the program by transporting the students via bus to the schools.
She said the program teaches more than academics.
“It builds relationships,” she said. “Everyone is important and can help someone.”