It’s always good to extend who you know, and for younger kids to not know them just as an older person, but as a friend.

Come to any Rose Park chapel on Wednesdays, and you’ll probably see big kids sitting by little kids, say sixth graders by kindergarteners, the older kids helping the little kids focus or sit still. Purposefully modeling for them how to listen in chapel, how to show respect, and praise God together.

Or come to the Rose Park library around Iditarod time in February, and you’ll see fifth graders showing second graders how to research in the library, how to find books on their topics or new information on the computers. Or different classes might pair up for service projects, like when the sixth graders help their kindergarten buddies sell cupcakes for a cause at Christmas, and show them how to count the change.

It’s quite a beautiful thing to behold.

What you’re witnessing is the Rose Park “buddy system” that really doesn’t have an official name, just lots of fondness and delight for it. It’s a pretty basic premise that seems to work minor miracles—pair up kids, say, from the fifth with second graders, third graders with Spanish Immersion kindergarteners, or sixth graders with English kindergarteners, for specific times and purposes throughout the school year, and then watch the magic happen.

It was a few years ago that a few teachers were hanging out on a workday and started talking about how a couple of teachers at Rose Park had experimentally paired up their classes as a buddy system, and met on an irregular basis to do group activities together. And then decided they should make the buddy system a school wide thing, since it seemed to work so wonderfully.

And the kids have really grown to like it, too.

“Meeting someone new is always a really nice experience, and then walk away with a new friend,” said soon-to-be seventh grader Olivia Zwiers ’26. “It’s always good to extend who you know, and for younger kids to not know them just as an older person, but as a friend.”

Fellow seventh grader Simon Grotenhuis ’26 also likes the buddy system because “you get to interact with someone at a younger age, and it’s really fun to do stuff with them. You learn to speak in front of other people, for younger people,” he added. Plus “when I see my buddy, I’ll say hi, when I see him somewhere else—like I saw him at church.”

There are legends of some Rose Park buddies greeting their buddy every morning at the circle drop off, to help walk them into the school. Or stories of them sledding together whenever they had recess and snow to play in together. Some of them mailed each other notes during the Covid-19 quarantine this spring. But mostly it’s a quick hi in the hallway, or the planned meetings during chapels or weekly get togethers. Like every Friday, fifth graders lead their second grade buddies in devotions, then the second graders pray, and then they do a short activity together.

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“It builds community and camaraderie,” said Rose Park retired kindergarten teacher Gretchen Vogelzang ’74 who helped start the program. “The older kids are role models for the younger kids. Kindergarteners feel well cared for by older kids. These are relationships that last four or more years!”

Second grade teacher Melanie Scott appreciates how the buddy system helps kids practice their collaboration and communication skills—on either end of the spectrum, like when her second graders research the Iditorod, and their fifth grade buddies, who have already done the project, are able to come in and show them how to write research note cards, thereby re-impressing that skill into their own brains.

But it’s also good for her second graders to be the big buddies for a preschool class, and get to practice their own reading skills for them, by reading to them periodically.

“Sometimes the fifth graders act as helpers for the second graders, but we also look for things that the second graders can be in charge of as well, so they can lead the fifth graders”—in things like STEM projects together—“so that the second graders could contribute their thinking and there’s a different kind of learning in that,” added second grade teacher Stacia (Vogelzang) Stoep ’04. “They don’t forget who their buddies are—they know!”

Plus it’s a great way to plug Spanish Immersion students into the English student population, and for both sides to practice both their English and/or their Spanish.

“They are getting to know different kids in school, on the playground, in the lunchroom—powerful in and of itself,” said Rose Park’s Spanish Immersion director, Dinah Pereira. She explained how helpful it was that teachers such as Danielle Snoeyink ’11, Rose Park third grade teacher, are open to seeing how their English students can learn and use more Spanish through their friendship and meetings with their Spanish Immersion buddies. “Because we don’t want them to become a closed program, but use their Spanish language to open doors.”

It’s also been a great way to plug students with special needs or diagnoses into the larger student population, making sure that all kids have a friend—or two.

“The buddy program allows students meaningful connections and creates an opportunity to see that each member of our school has different gifts and abilities,” added Katie Clausing, HC’s ESS Director. “Through these unique friendships we celebrate that God values all children equally. Organically, the beauty of God’s kingdom is on display.”

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The buddy program allows students meaningful connections and creates an opportunity to see that each member of our school has different gifts and abilities…