News & Views

Buddies Are Back: Country School Pairs Up in Beloved Tradition

As part of a longstanding Country School community-building tradition, all students across campus participated in “Buddies” time, which pairs younger students with older students. The first Buddies get-together of the year – and the first since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic – was held outdoors Nov. 15, with “getting to know you” games which included an iPad photo scavenger hunt, and “things we have in common” interviews.

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“We have a lot in common,” said ninth-grader Lane Gallagher of Rowayton who met his buddy, Beginner Catalina Figueroa of Bedford, NY for the first time Monday. They bonded over their favorite color (blue) and soccer, a sport they both love to play. Lane, a captain of the varsity team, suggested that they could maybe kick a ball together sometime. 

“She’s a really happy person, she smiles a lot, and laughs a lot and I think it will be easy to be friends with her,” said Lane.

Catalina agreed that they are well suited for friendship. "I liked that I was coloring with Lane. He shared his pencils with me. His favorite color is blue. And we have a pita chip connection - we both like the same snack!" 

Beginners 4/5 Lead Teacher Carin Walden shared that she is pleased with how the day turned out for everyone, and noted how meaningful it is for her students to be paired with the school’s oldest. "One of the things I love about the buddy connection is that Beginners have traditionally been partnered with ninth-graders and it is really a wonderful moment to see the bookends of the school coming together. For the Beginners to know that one day they will take on the role of being the ‘big kids’ and for the ninth graders to take time to reflect on the beginnings of their NCCS journeys has a certain poetry to it."

"There's the added value of offering the Beginners some perspective about the life of the school beyond our classroom and building, and absolute value in the ninth graders taking on a leadership role of designing activities,” Ms. Walden continued. “They [the ninth graders] came up with the idea of creating interlocking puzzle pieces for each pairing of students and as a metaphor, I really appreciated that concept – that we all come in different shapes but that we can also fit together as a collective."

Now in it’s 27th year, the Buddies program began when former Kindergarten Teacher Twee Hafner reached out to long-time sixth grade teacher Fraser Randolph around the fall of 1994 to take their students for a walk in the woods.

“Twee really loved birds and taking her class for these walks down to the school’s trails to listen for birds, and she decided that it would be a great idea to have sixth graders join,” Mr. Randolph recalled. “And so we would get together once every 10 days or two weeks and go for these great walks.”

“Sometimes, we’d also go to her classroom and do things. The students would find spots and read a book, or a younger student would narrate a personal story while an older student would write it down and read it back to them. And it became a natural system. We read a lot of stories together,” he added with a chuckle.

“Many times, the sixth graders would talk about what they were working on in their classes; math for example, and they would have to figure out how to explain a polyhedra to five-year-olds. We’d look up the hard words in the dictionary and write them on the board and the kids would all practice saying them and then the older kids would look for examples around the room to share. I’ll tell you, this worked well on both ends [of the age spectrum] and we realized that the sixth graders enjoyed and were good at re-teaching their own learning. So we did a lot of that. Just sharing what they were each learning.”

“It’s fun. It’s a lot of fun… and the kids know it. I’m telling you, the Kindergartners had to walk past our windows on their way to PE class, and no matter what I was teaching, I knew I'd lost them. They would all start saying “Here they come, here they come,” and the Kindergarten students would squeeze their little faces up against the windows or into the doorframe and everyone would be excited and laugh and wave and shout ‘Hello buddy! Hello buddy!’ And my kids would rush over to greet them and it would take me five minutes to get it all back together. You know, it’s a charming moment. And it’s testimony to the bond that’s really there. If my kids didn’t see her kids, you know, in two week’s time, I’m getting questions about it. It's a real emotion. It’s a real bonding. And you wouldn’t think that some of these tough sixth grade boys… but you watch them sit down and read a book or play checkers, or dress up, or play with a doll, or build with blocks and you know they do it without embarrassment. I find it charming and poignant. I think the buddy system allows them to shed that consciousness to become a kid again, but also to realize that they have some responsibility, you know, for that buddy.” View Photo Gallery.
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New Canaan Country School admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin and are afforded all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, age, sex, sexual orientation, national origin or ancestry, or disability in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, financial aid policies or any other school-administered programs.