Lunch buddies at Partnership Academy
RICHFIELD, Minn. -- Partnership Academy is a charter school in Richfield that takes its name seriously.
"Our name, Partnership Academy, was developed when we first started the school because we wanted to create community partnerships," according to executive director Lisa LaDue.
One of the very first initiatives staff created to serve that mission was to ask adult volunteers to come to school during lunch and recess and serve as a mentor to a student.
"It's not always the kids that need special attention, that's struggling in the classroom," said LaDue, " it could be that kid that is really excelling in the classroom, but they want to meet with that buddy to talk about their future."
"My lunch buddy comes in once a week during our lunch time, and we just sit around and play and mostly talk about things," said 6th grader Elizete Diaz.
Elizete is one of those students who is a high achiever, and she's been with her lunch buddy, Anne Bleecker for five years. This marks her last year, which leaves Bleecker with mixed emotions.
"I think right now between 6th grade and 12th grade, is when girls need to have strong adult influences as well, and not overbearing, but at least a good role model," said Bleecker.
Many students will stay with their lunch buddy for more than one year, which means these volunteers are also hanging around.
"I'm going to continue to do it as long as it's around," said volunteer Chris Gosselin, who has been mentoring at Partnership Academy for four years.
For him, it was an easy sell.
"My wife is a teacher here, and she told me about the program," said Gosselin who signed up immediately.
The adults generally come in once a week for about an hour. Many of them give up their lunch hour from work at nearby businesses.
They sit with their buddy during lunch, often playing games, and encouraging reluctant eaters to sample their lunch.
From there, it's out to the playground, where adults simply follow their students' lead.
"They feel special," LaDue said of the influence the mentors have on the students. "It's somebody else besides their teacher or their parent that cares about how they're doing."
As a result, LaDue says there's a boost in self-esteem for students paired with a mentor. There's also a boost in attendance as students never want to miss those days when their lunch buddy is at the school.
Project for Pride in Living Youth Development is the non-profit agency that recruits volunteers for the Lunch Buddy Program.
LaDue says they are always looking for adult volunteers, as there are more students who want buddies than there are adults to go around.
If you're interested, contact Sam Johnson at 612-270-3119 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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