Sitting across from each other in the elementary school library, Slidell High School senior Adina Zidermanis and her elementary-age partner Jackson work through an educational game.
Although it’s the first time for these two to team up, the campuses partnered around three weeks ago, pairing high school students with pre-k through fourth graders to work on issues both inside and outside the classroom.
Teacher Elizabeth Shelton said the student pairs focus on everything from math and reading to character skills and communication in 30-minute biweekly sessions.
“They may need help with reading or even just a pal,” she said.
Shelton said one of their greatest success stories is a partnership focused on character traits. High school basketball player Isaiah DeLuna and elementary student Gabe Dubberley have focused on character lessons. In just three weeks, she said Gabe’s behavior has improved in the classroom.
“Sometimes it has nothing to do with the books and everything to do with the investment in the child,” she said.
School staff helped get Gabe to Isaiah’s basketball game Friday, where he got to sit with his partner during the girls game and then cheer for him while the varsity boys played.
“It’s structured toward what the teachers have said a specific kid might need,” Shelton said. “We have one other case where a student was teaching the elementary school kid to tie shoes. When a teacher has 15 kids and one can’t tie his or her shoes, it’s hard for them to stop and keep working with one. So we’re able to pull a single high schooler to work with them on that skill.”
But the benefits of the partnership goes both ways, she said.
“I think the high school students take pride in being a leader,” she said. “They may not be the star of the basketball team or in Beta Club, but they’ve got somebody that looks up to them here. When a third grader gets excited that you’ve showed up, it’s kind of nice.”
In some cases, the district has paired students from similar backgrounds, which Shelton said gives high schoolers a unique look back at who they used to be.
“Students that came and maybe don’t speak English are now paired with a mentor that didn’t speak English when they came and can help them pick up that second language,” she said. “That’s probably been the most interesting is to hear the high schoolers say, ‘they’re just like I was.’
“It’s really special to see the effect this is having on kids from both groups. ”