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FFA Students Are Blue-Ribbon Mentors

Freshman Kendyll Steffes listens closely as second-grader Remington DeWeese reads aloud a book about a boy and his leprechaun friend.

“’If you take your eyes off a leprechaun, he will disappear into the air,’” Remington reads. “Into the what?” Kendyll gently interjects. “’Into the thin air,’” Remington corrects himself.

This is the reading portion of their weekly after-school get-togethers, and it helps Remington get up to speed for his grade level. But soon they’re playing a word game called Boggle, and there’s a pizza party coming in a couple of weeks.

“He really likes food all the time,” Kendyll fondly kids Remington.

“I’m an eating machine,” he declares proudly.

The reading, playing and eating are all part of the FFA PALS program, which brings Kendyll and four other high school students to Beach Elementary every week to spend time with 10 second- and third-graders. For several years, members of Cedar’s Future Farmers of America have volunteered as pals to Beach students in need of an academic boost and some mentoring.

The FFA students, advised by science teacher Larry Reyburn, also have taken their Beach pals outside to cultivate plants in the garden. Lucky students like Remington have accompanied their high school pals to the annual FFA banquet.

The pairings benefit both parties, says Cindy Caldwell, an instructional coach who coordinates the PALS program for Beach.

“It has made the FFA students be very confident and feel good about making a difference,” Caldwell says. “The elementary students get some one-on-one attention that they crave. They think high school students are pretty cool, and they’re good role models.”

Kendyll says Remington is “adorable,” and he says the same about her

Better Focus, More Fun

Besides Kendyll, other FFA PALS this year are Diane Howe, Selena Birtley, Madison Melson and Madison Strain, who was named PAL of the year at the recent FFA banquet. PALS are expected to faithfully visit their two students weekly and spend 20 minutes each with them.

“They feel important for that 20 minutes a day,” Caldwell says of Beach students. “They’re getting all of someone’s attention and they thrive on that.”

Five Beach teachers select two students who could use help in math and reading and in focusing on their studies. Remington’s teacher, Maribeth Klein, says Kendyll has made a difference for her young pal.

“It’s really been great for his focus,” Klein says. “He’s sustaining independent reading much better than he was at the beginning of the year.”

Besides reading, Kendyll and Remington have fun taking goofy selfies on Kendyll’s smartphone. They also play games like I Spy and Kapow, Remington’s favorite, although he complains she always wins.

“She’s fun,” Remington says of Kendyll. “And sometimes cool. Sometimes she brings me candy.”

“He’s absolutely adorable,” Kendyll says of Remington, who shoots back, “Sometimes she’s adorable.”

“His favorite word is ‘sometimes,’” Kendyll says with a smile.

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Beach Elementary School

National FFA

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey is editor-in-chief of SNN, and covers series and issues stories for all districts. As a reporter for The Grand Rapids Press/mLive from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years and its columnist for 20. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion News Service and Faith & Leadership magazine. Read Charles' full bio

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