Students from 's Fostering Friendships mentoring program celebrated the end of the school year with a fun-filled afternoon at Mac's Bowlaway Lanes in West Warwick on Wednesday.
The 26 students ranging from grades 1-5 spent time with each other and their mentors, or "buddies", while enjoying pizza, snacks and of course lots of Duckpin bowling.
Program Director Kim O'Connell, who has been leading the program at Hopkins Hill for 15 years, explained that it has recently been nationally recognized for its success. She explained that there are currently 32 children in the program who are each paired up with one of 32 volunteer teachers or teaching assistants until they graduate from fifth grade.
"There are quite a few mentors that stay in contact with their students even after they leave Hopkins Hill," explained O'Connell. "I still talk to one student who is a junior at the high school now."
The goal of the program is to provide students who may have anxiety about being in school, the opportunity to talk to and spend time with an adult outside of the home that can assuage these feelings and help them look forward to school. The program is not always academically related and the majority of the students are recommended by teachers who notice that they may need a little help adjusting.
"We aim to make the kids comfortable, therefore lessening the tardiness and absenteeism that frequently goes along with those feelings," said O'Connell. "More kids come to school and come on time when they know that their buddy is there waiting for them."
Students and their buddies frequently meet before and after school to play games, make crafts and perform the occasional community service project. During the holidays, the students helped collect canned goods for the Coventry Food Bank and decorate the Thanksgiving baskets that went to local families in need. They also created Valentine's Day cards for patients at Hasbro Children's Hospital.
Students may also request to visit their mentor during the school day at the discretion of their academic teacher.
Because Fostering Friendships is an unfunded program, O'Connell and her fellow teachers rely on money earned from small internal fundraisers, like the Stamp Farms plant sale that was recently held at the school. Because of this, most of the program's activities take place at the school, with the exception of special events such as the bowling party.
"It is all about giving the kids the attention that they need and not about the material things," said O'Connell. "We're teaching them to give back."
"A lot teachers have seen positive changes in the students," she went on to say. "We have a very worthwhile and rewarding program."