CAP Services connects with Pacelli students for buddy program
A 4-year-old boy ran up, grabbed a teenage girl’s hand and dragged her all over the playground. Sometimes he tried running – had she let go he would have toppled right over – and other times he meandered, just taking in a bit of nature or investigating what another child was doing.
All the while, the teen grinned, occasionally laughed, and when tugged, she held her opposite hand on her head to prevent her hat from blowing off in the wind.
Inside, tucked in a corner in a classroom, another teen sat with a child almost folded in her lap, fingers in the mouth as the teen read a story.
The sights are common ones for the Pacelli High School students volunteering time to interact with CAP Services’ students in the Family Development Child Care Center.
“These kids have created such an attachment, they cry out when the big kids are coming, and for my kids … these young teens and older teens are learning the psychology of kids, the emotions and how to diffuse emotions,” Pacelli High School Principal Larry Theiss said. “They learn these skills. We’re teaching these kids what it means to be an active, involved person.”
This is the first year Pacelli has teamed up with CAP Services to provide what initially was a Reading Buddies program. It took on a life of its own and has grown in the past several months into a mentor-type program in which the teens become role models, “active play” buddies and in general “friends” with the youngsters.
“I feel like I get so much more out of this program than what we do to put into it,” said senior Salley Beyer. “The kids at CAP Services are so happy to be there, and it makes me realize all the little things that can bring so much joy to us all.”
With five different classrooms and close to 70 students in the morning, some starting their day outside and some inside, CAP Services’ Family Development Center Program Coordinator Diane Shaver knew it was likely that the reading buddy designation would morph into other connections.
“Even when the fun activities are going on, there’s learning going on,” she said. For example, children were building a tower and the question that popped up with the Pacelli students was how could they make the tower stronger?
“It’s learning physics in a fun way, and they don’t know it’s physics, it’s just happening,” Shaver said.
The teenagers also learn how to speak on a 2- to 4-year-old level, which in turn helps that youngster develop skills, CAP Services’ Early Childhood Development Assistant Director Kathy Schouten said.
“It’s more one-on-one attention,” she said. “They learn to talk at their level, the children listen, and then they (all) extend the conversation, and that’s a huge skill when they’re going on to kindergarten.”
Pacelli has three groups of students who come in once a week for about an hour to interact with the students. Though the program is new, teachers do see benefits.
“The more guys come in the more excited they get, because not all of them have guy role models at home,” teacher Ashley Kaul said. “They hang out, play with the kids, read books. Socially, for them, it’s a new person to know, to have different people in the classrooms is good, and to let them know these friends are safe to play with.”
The Pacelli students say they may be gaining more from the experience than the little ones, and they hope it continues.
“The only thing I found challenging at first was jumping in because I am a shy person,” said freshman Logan Bauman. “It really boosts your self-esteem to just be able to go there and know that the kids love having you there and want you to help them learn and succeed.
“What made my day was on the last day one of the kids came up to me and hugged me because they didn’t want me to leave,” he said. “It really just makes you light up when you walk in and they get so excited because the big kids are there and they have so much fun with us. I think it makes their days as well as ours.”
Pacelli Catholic Schools students participating in the program this semester included Bauman, Lexi Grote, Weronika Weronska (all year), Amy Groshek, Katelynn Polm, Beyer, Chioma Obasi, Madison Hintz, Karli Homann (all year), Ben Bisone (all year), Josh Bergquist, Zach Wysocki, Ben Kroening, Kaitlyn Cowart (all year), Sam Blanker, Haley Raflik, Emma Springob (all year), Peter Clark and Samantha Cowart (all year).
Fall semester students participating also included Delaney Mace, Amanda Klasinski, Arianna Johnson, Delaney Lawlis, Jesse Vaughan, Karisa Mansavage, Julia Tutton, Lauren Fish, Elizabeth Cisewski, Hannah Frane, Nick Rosenthal, Cassie Ostertag, Nicole Schroeder and Sarah Mueller.