Buddy and Me Program Celebrated
The School of Education held a celebration for the Buddy and Me Program, a partnership between the University and the Amerigo A. Anastasia Elementary School in West Long Branch, in Anacon Hall on Thursday, Nov. 29.
The event was held for the elementary students in the program to celebrate their new “Buddies,” and to say goodbye to previous Buddies whose service hours were over this semester. University students participating in their service learning classes, and University staff who taught the service learning classes, and the coordinators of the program were all in attendance, along with the office staff from the C&I office in the School of Education.
The students and staffers were served breakfast, and they participated in games like tic-tac-toe and musical chairs; and the Anastasia elementary school awarded the University students with a certificate for their work in the program.
The program works with elementary school students from grades first to fifth, first to fifth grade students from the elementary school, the University’s first year and special education classes, and the Monmouth service learning project. It originated three years ago under the leadership of Ruth Morris, Ed.D., Chair of the Department of Early Childhood Education, Markus Rodriguez, a student advisor at the elementary school and Nikita Grinnell, a teacher of a third-grade self-contained class at the elementary school, to create a program that would change the lives of many underprivileged children.
Originally, elementary students were only allowed to work on computers during breakfast. This later developed into Monmouth University service learning students and the children at Anastasia Elementary School working together during the time before breakfast, and soon after was expanded to lunch hours, after school hours, and in-class student aid. The program allows students at the elementary school to have a support system other than teachers and family, but it also allows the University’s students to experience what it is like working with children, especially younger ones and those who require extra attention due to disabilities.
Markus Rodriguez, known as Mr. Rodriguez around the school, is titled as Co-Coordinator of this program at the elementary school. In his mind, this program represents something larger than just students having the opportunity to complete service learning hours at the elementary school. Rodriguez and many others believe that Buddy and Me allows a district of students with, “little opportunity to hear and learn about college and aspire to reach that goal.”
Rodriguez also believes that this program is beneficial for everyone involved since these young students usually have few people, if any at all, in their corner who truly push them for a better life than what they see at home. The University students assume a mentoring role while working with these children.
Grinnell became the co-coordinator as well as the technical advisor for the online program, working alongside Rodriguez. She had started a computer-based program a few years prior to use in her classroom but was looking to expand it. When Rodriguez asked her about the program, not only did she see it as an opportunity for Monmouth students to get a more hands-on experience, but also for students outside of her classroom to have access to the program.
Grinnell being a graduate of the Long Branch school system, witnessed first-hand what happens when children are not introduced to the idea of college and wanted to help cultivate the ambitions of students that did not initially consider going to college. Grinnell believes that this program is “fantastic,” because it “inspires children and the staff gets the help that they need.” In the beginning, they only saw the benefits of the Buddy and Me Program for the elementary students, but Grinnell did not know how college students would be affected other than meeting curriculum needs.
Christina Barlik, a sophomore education student, explained, “Buddy and Me is special because you are getting that personal connection between the students and being able to be a support for the younger ones.”
John Henning, Dean of the School of Education, Ph.D., said, “By placing candidates in schools it helps students who cannot afford tutors thus helping the district.” He also believes that even though the needs of the college and elementary school students are different, they make great partners because they complement each other well.
Mikela Giurlanto, an eight-year-old student at Amerigo A. Anastasia Elementary School, said, “I want to go to college because the fun college students who come to my school teach me a lot.”
PHOTO TAKEN by Emily Condron