March 11, 2021

'Buddy Project' helps students and their undergrad mentors weather pandemic

Author: Liza Frenette
Source:  NYSUT Communications
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Caption: Undergraduate mentors prepped Halloween gift bags for their K-12 student "buddies." Photo provided.

The St. Lawrence County People Project has developed a new program teaming area undergrads with K-12 students.

“The Buddy Project,” offers free, weekly mentoring, tutoring or specific skills training, such as language lessons, music lessons or yoga. A coalition of leaders and students, in collaboration with the county Youth Bureau, developed the plan to provide support to youths in a COVID-19 safe way.

The free program is open to all K-12 students within St. Lawrence County. Undergraduates from St. Lawrence University, SUNY Canton and SUNY Potsdam are available to support local youth.

The program is helping area undergrads access field experience during the pandemic, while also helping younger students adjust and thrive. Tutoring, project boxes, and videos focusing on character development are all in the works.

Before COVID-19, college programs allowed students to earn credit hours for working in classrooms, or to earn money in work-study programs working as reading tutors. The pandemic wiped out all that contact.

“We had college students who wanted field experience without anywhere to go,” said Mary Wills, director of the People Project, a union-led initiative combining the energy of unions, businesses, educators, company leaders and civic groups to improve the lives of residents in this economically struggling county.

The People Project created a survey for parents and teachers to sample the needs in the different districts. An underpinning of the Buddy Project is awareness of the need to help students with social-emotional challenges exacerbated by the pandemic, said Wills, a retired Ogdensburg teacher. “We were concerned about the struggles kids were going through.”

Currently, St. Lawrence undergrads are helping to develop videos for students at Colton-Pierrepont Central Schools who are studying character development. A second venture is being developed after teachers and students requested help with learning that would not involve screen time. The People Project steering committee decided on Projects in a Box after researching different ideas. It will involve sending a box home filled with items for arts and crafts; or a STEM project; to list two examples. The college students would prepare the boxes.

“We are looking for funding,” said Wills.

The colleges are charged with providing training for undergrads helping out in these programs, instructing them in confidentiality, appropriate interactions, and safety. A community partner, St. Lawrence County Health Initiative, is also helping with the training.

The Buddy Project is led by Wills, Ashlee Downing-Duke of St. Lawrence University, and SUNY Potsdam’s Julie Johnson and Sarah Solley, both members of United University Professions, the SUNY higher education union. Currently the Buddy Project is a collaboration among the People Project, the colleges, and the St. Lawrence Youth Bureau.

The People Project, supported by NYSUT and the American Federation of Teachers, envelops 18 K–12 public school districts in St. Lawrence County, and includes BOCES and colleges.

“We’re hoping this type of program is not just for the pandemic,” Wills said. “There is value in it even afterward.”

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