Alex Stucky folded a green piece of craft paper in half and with a red marker wrote “Merry Xmas” in it. On the outside, he drew a Christmas tree topped with a yellow star.
The 8-year-old was making Christmas cards for family members Tuesday afternoon, with the help of Jake Morelli, a Bellefonte Area High School junior.
The two were part of a program established last spring by faculty at Pleasant Gap Elementary School that mimics the Big Brothers Big Sisters program and provides additional support and mentoring opportunities for students.
The Bellefonte Area School District Big Buddies Program pairs Pleasant Gap students with high school students who work together on social and academic activities for about an hour twice a month, school counselor Tara Condit said.
“They miss classroom instruction for about an hour, but get something else in return,” Condit said. “They’re working with the high schoolers, who are assertive and teach them to be good friends and act as good role models.”
Tuesday’s message was “the spirit of giving,” Condit said.
“We want them to see what it’s like to make and give something to another person,” she said.
About 10 littles met with their big buddies and made an assortment of holiday cards and drawings they plan to give to their families during the holidays.
When Logan Tressler, 5, was having difficulty finding inspiration, his big buddy, Nick Jabco, 17, encouraged him to write holiday key words and decorate the card with stars and trees.
When Logan didn’t know how to spell some words, Jabco even helped him with the language.
“It’s just really cool to be a part of a kid’s life in a really positive way,” said Jabco, who’s been working with Logan since early November.
Jabco and a group football players joined the program this year after hearing about it from coach Shanon Manning.
Other students joined through the high school’s safety committee.
Three years ago, high school Principal Jen Brown started a Student Safety Committee, which meets with her monthly.
Brown said the committee’s focus grew from safety only to also include community service.
The partnership started in the spring when Pleasant Gap Principal Tammie Burnaford found the need for a mentor-type program.
“And I told her I had the kids to make it happen,” Brown said.
The program began with a soft rollout that included one Pleasant Gap student and high school student Jordan Corman, who is a part of the program again this year.
Now there are 11 kindergarten to fourth-grade students who were selected based on family background and those students who need special attention, Condit added.
“We’re a small school so we really know the needs of every student we serve,” Condit said.
The group meets at the elementary school with help from Melissa Donohue, a case worker with the Centre County Youth Service Bureau who often works with the county’s Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
“It’s the perfect program to help match more kids, because we always have a wait list,” Donohue said.
But the program isn’t limited to in-class time.
Morelli said he left school early one time this month to attend a Christmas concert rehearsal Alex was a part of.
“It means a lot to know we can be someone they can lean on whether we’re here playing games or when we’re out in the community,” Morelli said.
Burnaford said she hopes to team up with other elementary schools in the district to expand the program.
“There’s no better joy than seeing the smiles on the students’ faces when they know it’s Big Buddies day,” Burnaford said. “It speaks volumes that these teens volunteered their time to help give back to our students, and that it’s been such a positive program, and a program they actually look forward to.”