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February 03. 2014 10:25PM

Londonderry's Big Buddies foster friendships


Londonderry High School students Ryan Muse, Katie Collins, Jen McQueeney, Emily Downing and Kayla Slide are among the 140 students currently participating in the school's Best Buddies program. (APRIL GUILMET)

LONDONDERRY — Thirteen years ago, then-Londonderry High School student Heather Robinson approached assistant principal Katie Sullivan in hopes of making a difference in the lives of her younger peers.

A short time later, the school's Big Buddies program was born. Twenty students participated in the program that first year, heading over to one of the district's elementary schools once a week where they worked one-on-one with kids facing various challenges in their lives.

Today the program has more than 140 high school students serving as buddies to children at Matthew Thornton, South and North elementary schools, as well as at Londonderry Middle School, and the program continues to grow.

Staff member Elsie Carrasquillo, who oversees club activities along with Sullivan, said the interest in the club is generated mostly by word of mouth.

"A few of our kids have had Big Buddies themselves when they were younger," she said. "But most of them keep participating simply because they enjoy it."

Those wishing to become a Big Buddy fill out an application, which is generally approved provided the older student is in good academic standing and would be a good role model.

Once they're accepted into the program, the Buddies are sent to the district's elementary and middle schools every day, spending their study periods or afterschool hours at the younger students' respective schools.

"These are younger students that are in need of a friend and some extra support," Carrasquillo said.

Some of the younger students have special needs, while others are simply facing challenging times at school or at home. They may need a bit of extra help with their homework, or simply just someone to talk to, play a game with or spend some quiet time together working on a craft.

Some of the older Buddies are freshmen, while others, like junior Katie Collins, have been working with the same child for several years.

"We play a lot of Uno together," Collins said with a laugh. "We have an ongoing score going. And I've seen him grow a lot during that time."

Junior Kayla Slide said she remembers some of her elementary school classmates having Buddies and she always knew she, too, wanted to participate in the program someday.

"I just love walking into the room and seeing that little face light up," she said.

Benefits of the program are a two-way street.

"The younger kids get help with their social skills and their self-esteem," Carrasquillo said. "And the older kids get some real-life experience and the chance to really make a difference."

For Collins and Slide, along with fellow club member Emily Downing, being a Big Buddy helped influence their future career goals.

Collins said she hopes to one day become a special education teacher. Downing and Slide also wish to teach children someday.

Fellow juniors Ryan Muse and Jen McQueeney don't necessarily see teaching in their future, but both agreed the time spent with their younger students has been time well-spent.

"I just like being able to be a friend to this little girl," McQueeney said.

aguilmet@newstote.com


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