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High school, elementary buddies connect through leadership class

Wyoming — Third-graders dressed as superheroes, clowns, cats and skeletons for Halloween agreed on what is really cool about their Wyoming High School buddies. 

“They’re 16!” said several of the Oriole Park Elementary students as they cut triangle eyes and crescent-shaped smiles for paper jack-o-lanterns with instruction from their older peers.

While being a teenager is certainly impressive, the younger children are also learning about being good students, athletes, community members and role models from their high-school friends. That’s the goal of a partnership linking Peer to Peer Leadership Class teacher Anna Christiaans’ 16 older students with teacher Kristen Accorsi’s elementary class. 

While buddies aren’t meeting in person yet this year due to coronavirus restrictions, they correspond as pen pals through letters and chat on Zoom in group meetings and breakout rooms for a class period one Friday a month. “My least favorite food is fish and so is my buddy’s,” said third-grader Kayla Eddington about what she has in common with her buddy, Maressa Rodriguez.

The purpose of the class is to teach high-school students about leadership and mentorship, Christiaans said. “The goal of this is to practice their mentoring skills while giving the elementary students a chance to meet some older students. It helps them make a connection they might otherwise not have especially in a time when we’ve lost a lot of our connections.”

Added Accorsi, “Mrs. Christiaans’ students are great role models for my kids. They’re using their own leadership skills to help develop them in my third-grade students… My kids look up to her students and enjoy hearing about their interests, hobbies and what high school life is like.”

On Oct. 30, high-school students helped their younger peers celebrate Halloween, including showing off their fun costumes. Junior Trista Werkema said she’s enjoying getting to know her buddy, Aurora Coffman. “I learned that we both like cheerleading and she wants to be a cheer coach when she grows up. She said she doesn’t like the color brown, or sushi, and that she has a pretty big family. She also included in her letter that she is super excited to meet me and get to know each other this school year.”

Third-grader Brayden Knapp said he hopes to be able to play football with his buddy, junior Isaiah Clark this year, and Isaiah is excited for that kind of opportunity.

“I’m excited to get to know him more, teach him stuff and just get to talk to him,” said Isaiah, who also attended Oriole Park as an elementary school student.

Oriole Park Elementary students work on their Halloween crafts while Zooming with their high school buddies
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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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