Students foster community with Big Little Partnership

Students foster community with Big Little Partnership

Rachel Gradey, a senior at Cumberland High School, helps B.F. Norton 1st-grader Blake Borden read “Clifford The Big Red Dog” as part of The Big Little Partnership. (Breeze photos by Nicole Dotzenrod)

CUMBERLAND – Every Thursday when the school day ends, a group of 10th- to 12-grade students travels from Cumberland High School to B.F. Norton Elementary School to donate their afternoon hours to the younger students across town.

Through a new program called The Big Little Partnership, high school volunteers are matched with elementary-age counterparts to serve as mentors.

From 3 to 3:45 p.m. each Thursday, high school mentors meet with a group of students in grades 3-5 in the B.F. Norton library, offering homework help and tutoring, geared toward the specific needs of each individual mentee. Down the hall, the older students read books to kindergarten and 1st-graders. At the end of the program, grades 3-5 head to the gym for a fun activity with their mentors, while students in the younger grades unwind by coloring.

The program is the brainchild of Sandy Lariviere and Stephen Henn, principals-in-training in town through the Principals Residency Network, and B.F. Norton reading specialist Jessica Macedo.

They say they hope The Big Little Partnership will help to foster more equitable outcomes for all students in the district regardless of their background, a major tenet of the Principals Residency Program.

“It’s very positive to see the high school students outside of the academic lens as they take kids under their wing,” said Henn, principal-in-training at Cumberland High School. “It’s so beneficial for them to act as positive role models and make a difference in a kid’s life. At the end of the program, they’ll have a fan for life.”

The program is intended to foster healthy relationships and to build community, going beyond academic intervention to form a social and emotional bond between mentors and mentees.

There are currently about 17 high school students involved, matched up with 23 elementary-level students.

High school students are able to earn community service hours, while their younger counterparts receive needed academic intervention, while forming a bond with an older students, which can help them down the road with their transition to middle school and beyond.

Cumberland High School senior Kailey Vinacco reads to her mentee, kindergartner Kylen Taylor during their March 1 Big Little Partnership meetup.