When the fifth graders enter the Gan classroom to meet their buddies for the first time, there is a palpable sense of excitement and nervous energy in the air. The fifth graders seem to stand a little bit taller as they realize that it is now their turn to be the leaders in the school.  They do a quick scan of the classroom and declare, “I don’t remember the chairs being this small.”  “The classroom looks so different.”  “We didn’t have a stage!”

I love revisiting the past and reflecting upon the lessons taught and the relationships developed.  I fondly recall when many of these 10-year-old students were once a part of the gan.  Now, I have the opportunity to observe them in the present; as mature and positive role models for the school and for the class of 2029.  I can see first-hand how these fifth grade students have come together as a unit and how they support, encourage, challenge, and love one another.  They have blossomed and are now helping to nourish the newest seeds in our school community.  Over the next 5 years at HDS, these gansters will follow in their buddies’ footsteps and mature, bloom and grow here.

This year, in true collaborative fashion, the fifth grade and gan teaching teams met to discuss ways to fully maximize the benefits of having our youngest and oldest students learn, play, work, create, and celebrate together.  Aligning our curricula for both the general and Hebrew/Judaic studies programs, we formed a year-long vision and designed a plan to implement lessons, games, and activities that would benefit all of the students.  It was gratifying to see how the curriculum connects in specific areas, themes, and topics.  For instance, the gansters learn about safety and study the human body while the fifth graders explore the human body through a more advanced lens.  Cause and effect is studied in the gan while the fifth graders revisit this concept when they construct simple machines.  One of the best ways for an educator to help a student establish a deeper understanding of material is to give him/her the opportunity to explain or teach it to another.  The buddy program gives both the oldest and youngest students the chance to do just this!

So far this year, the buddies have worked together in many ways and on many projects. They learned about the midah (character trait) of bravery, which was introduced to the community at Rosh Chodesh Kislev. Working in groups of 2 or 3, the fifth grade and gan students sat side by side and engaged in a meaningful conversation about a time when they acted courageously.  The fifth graders took dictation for the gansters and their words were posted for all to read on the Mensch bulletin board in the hallway.  Just before Hanukah, the children met to make wax candles; giggles and chatter abounded.  Working with their buddies in the fifth grade classroom (a change of venue) was a particularly special experience.  As part of our initiatives for maintaining our Green School status, the fifth graders recently read books to the gansters about taking care of the environment.  The gansters provided the perfect audience for the fifth graders to read their own self-published fables and similarly, the fifth graders will listen to our how-to books and poetry in the coming months.

The buddies serve a significant role in our classroom and in the school; this role extends beyond solely strengthening our academic learning.  The fifth graders model how to serve and lead through student council, they enthusiastically greet our gansters in the hallway, they welcome classmates to join their games on the playground, and they willingly escort the younger students indoors to use the bathroom during their precious recess time.  The values of respect, patience, caring, and inclusion are consistently and clearly conveyed, both in action and in words.  Our buddy programs demonstrate collaboration in one of its best forms.  Not only do our students benefit socially, spiritually, academically, and emotionally from having a fifth grade buddy, but the teachers reap the rewards of this collaboration too!