Special Times for Special Friends

Reading and Math Fun for ‘Kids Who Care’

Melina Brigalia, center, reads “Rumpelstiltskin” to Kaili Cooper, left, and Ayrella Bailey

First-grader Ja’Nia Gossett is reading to fourth-grader Madeline De Young from “The Pigeon Has Feelings, Too!” by Mo Willems, and putting quite a lot of feeling into it.

“Yippee! I win!” Ja’Nia crows, quoting the bird’s boast. “You’re looking at one happy pigeon right now! Happy, happy, haaaaaappy!” Madeline joins her in drawing out the last word.

They’re out in the hallway of Zinser Elementary School, along with other first- and fourth-graders reading to each other. It’s part of “special friends,” when the school’s older and younger grades get together to read, play math games and, yep, sometimes form friendships.

Lincoln Bosma, left, and Ryker Brown are happy with the Christmas gifts they received from Zach Lake

“She’s always nice,” Ja’Nia says of Madeline, who goes to daycare with her. “She’s always caring to me,” Madeline says of Ja’Nia. “She’s definitely ‘kids who care,’” the school’s motto.

A special-friend bond formed between fourth-grader Zach Lake and first-graders Lincoln Bosma and Ryker Brown. Zach went shopping with his mom and bought Christmas presents for them – a football for Lincoln and toy cars for Ryker. The younger boys gave him thank-you notes on their recent reading day.

“That was very nice of you to give us those toys,” Lincoln’s note read. “P.S. You are a generous person.”

Such simple acts have nurtured relationships beyond the classroom, say teachers Sara Sposaro and Carrie Dougherty. They’ve paired their classes as special friends for almost 15 years.

“My kids are empowered,” Sposaro says of her fourth-graders. “They feel like they’re the teacher.”

Dougherty says her first-graders quietly learn skills such as addition from their older peers, and something more. “In some instances, it’s almost like a big brother-sisterkind of bond that they get,” she says. “These kids really connect.”


Zinser Elementary School

Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press 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. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine, Religion News Service and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles's full bio.


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