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Wolves, meet cubs

New initiative builds relationships between high school and elementary students

Wyoming — Converting rice from pounds to ounces was the task at hand, and sophomore Yarlis Valdiz helped fourth-grader Luna Koch do the math.

“How did they teach you to convert pounds into ounces?” asked Yarlis, as Luna considered the problem.

“Sixteen ounces is a pound,” Luna answered.

“OK. So, if you have five pounds of rice, you have to do five times 16,” Yarlis explained.

That equals 80 ounces of rice, they concluded, and Luna jotted down the answer.

Gladiola Elementary School’s three fourth-grade classrooms were abuzz with conversations about math, reading and much more as 180 ninth- through 12th- graders from Wyoming High School spent time with the younger students. 

As part of the new AW11 Friends mentoring program, students are modeling what it means to be an Alpha Wolf 11, a person who demonstrates kindness, compassion and graciousness during visits to the district’s four elementary schools.

AW11 Friends is an initiative of the Alpha Wolf program, which started in 2016. Alpha Wolf honors students who are leaders in ways that go beyond grades, sports or test scores. Each semester, students vote for peers who deserve the title and celebrate them at a ceremony.

Luna said she looks up to the teens, and understands what an Alpha Wolf is. The leadership traits are well-known at her school. 

“I like to enjoy time with them because I get to make new friends and I get to observe what they do to be an Alpha Wolf 11 when I’m older,” Luna said.

Yarlis said she’s learned something about herself, too. “It’s opened up an option for me to become a special education teacher.”

High school and elementary students on the Gladiola Elementary playground

Sharing District-wide Values

High school U.S. History teacher John Doyle, who was instrumental in beginning Alpha Wolf 11, leads the mentoring program with social worker Mark Kuiper. They wanted to expand collaboration based on Alpha Wolf.

‘I get to make new friends and I get to observe what they do to be an Alpha Wolf 11 when I’m older.’

— fourth-grader Luna Koch

Doyle said he hopes elementary students find joy in creating new friendships with older students who can listen to them and provide hope, optimism and inspiration.

“For our high school students, my hope is that they feel a sense of self-worth to impact others who once stood in their shoes,” he said. “Younger students need mentors but the reality is, older students need them as well.  Our high school students’ experiences so far have been that they are gaining just as much from those they are mentoring.”

Senior Joshua Kortz sees the program as a way to help younger students have future success. “It’s about being a bigger brother or sister for them… the leaders of our school will help them get on a better path as they get into middle and high school.”

All students — young and older — spent most of the mentoring session on the Gladiola playground. During a moment of silliness, senior Ameera Spears scooped up fourth-grader Carlos Pachedo and held him like a baby. She enjoys moments like that with the students.

“They’ve got a lot of energy, so it’s a lot of fun,” Ameera said.

While high school students may be older, they are not all taller, demonstrates fourth-grader Elliott Covington, at left, to sisters Esmeralda Gonzalez, 11th grade, and Alexa Gonzalez

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is managing editor and reporter, covering Kentwood, Lowell and Wyoming. 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


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