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Younger, older students mingle, bond at West Madison

The youngest and oldest children at school can bond with the FRIENDS program at West Madison.

Earlier this semester, physical education teacher Joy Brindley noticed that her sixth-grade class was enjoying the chance to visit with kindergartners, who were outside for recess.

Knowing that P.E. and recess times coincided, Brindley asked the kindergarten teachers “if we could bring them together … better yet, pair them with a ‘friend,'” she said.

Cooperation from kindergarten teachers Jamie Ratcliffe, Jana Stover and Kari Sims was crucial. Brindley said the unconventional setup has succeeded for several reasons.

“My earliest intentions were to focus on character education, along with physical skills,” Brindley said. For example, in November she told the sixth-graders to talk to their ‘K-friend’ about what they were thankful for and then practice throwing and catching.

In December, the sixth-graders helped K-friends make Christmas cards for nursing home residents. Before Christmas, sixth-graders helped their K-friends with a P.E. activity called Alphabet Exercises, and then they played on the playground.

Brindley has not observed any fear from the kindergarten students toward the older students. “This group of sixth-graders isn’t scary. There’s a lot of respect and admiration, in both directions,” she said.

One of Brinkley’s favorite comments while listening to students was a kindergartner who asked her, “Where is my ‘best friend’?” She asked the student if he was talking about his sixth-grade friend. He said, “Yes.”

The boys are ‘hanging out’ together, as do the girls. Both age groups are learning from each other.

“After 25 years of teaching, I’ve asked myself why I’ve never done this before,” Brindley said. “The main reason is because I have the best group of sixth-graders that I think I’ve ever taught.”

“I trust the sixth-graders with the kindergartners. I know they’re going to help them more than I and P.E. aide Regina Christian can ,” Brindley said. “The sixth-graders are ‘teaching.’ Kindergartners are experiencing things that I couldn’t do with them otherwise. I love the friendships that are developing and the smiles of pure joy.”

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