Submitted by Jennifer McKay, Jennifer McKay, Principal Dike-Newell School in RSU 1
Dike-Newell School is a Pre-Kindergarten through Second Grade elementary school of 250 students, located in Bath, Maine. Part of RSU 1, Dike-Newell School embraces the philosophy of being a community of engaged learners where everyone matters. The staff at the school are involved in committee work, and explore ways to enrich the student experience. One recent initiative supports literacy as well as connecting students through building community – Classroom Buddy Reading.
While not a novel concept, it can be challenging logistically at times to set up buddy classroom projects. The Dike-Newell Whole-School Activities Committee put together a once-a-month, whole school system pairing up classrooms for 30-45 minutes on a Tuesday morning. Non-classroom staff were assigned to help facilitate and work with students with support needs, and the efforts kicked off in February.
What staff and students have found is that the children really enjoyed being partnered with non-age group peers, and it has spurred a sense of community that was, at times, lacking. Second graders really enjoy being role models and literacy leaders with younger students, and younger students really enjoy having time to connect with older peers. For staff, as well, it has been a way to connect with previous and future students, build relationships with students not in their class, and allows everyone to have more familiar faces and names throughout the building.
Another benefit of the program is support for literacy and the love of books. In the first buddy read session, students brought book boxes filled with favorite texts to share with their buddies. Students were able to talk about why they enjoyed certain books or authors, and encouraged each other to try new books. In April, for Poetry Month and part of the school’s “Poem in My Pocket” event, students will be sharing poems during their buddy reading session, and in future sessions the committee is discussing having author studies, genre studies, and other focused literacy topics for students to buddy read.
Dike-Newell School is always working to bring students together in a meaningful way, and to build our community of engaged learners. The Buddy Reading program is one example of the work that is being done to support this vision.