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story.lead_photo.caption Lynn Atkins/The Weekly Vista Natalie Dubon and Ellen Etien were matched as Bronco Buddies last year and kept in touch all summer through the mail.

Bronco Buddies Taylor Stevens and Reese Miller sometimes play a "weird" version of tag at recess at Cooper Elementary School once a week.

Stevens, a mentor in the school's Bronco Buddies program, usually eats lunch with third-grader Reese Miller and a couple of his friends. Then they go outside.

"First they tag each other," Stevens reported, "Then they all turn around and tag me."

Recess, Stephens said, can be exhausting, but he comes back each week for more. The pair is one of about 18 mentor/mentee relationships at Cooper.

Counselor Buddy Herndon uses matchmaker skills to assign mentors. The students are in the program for a variety of reasons. Some are from single-parent homes or are being raised by grandparents. Some are having trouble keeping up in class and some have behavior challenges. All of them benefit from a friendship with an adult who shares lunch at school once a week.

"Having a buddy to talk to, having an outlet to get emotions out, that helps tremendously," Stevens said. His day job is as a chiropractor who works with children. He has experience with kids who have sensory issues.

"I like writing because of him," Reese said. "He taught me how to calm down."

Ellen Etien has two grandsons of her own, but they're not likely to sit down at lunch and just talk like her friend Natalie Dubon. The two talk about what each has been up to since the last time they saw each other. Natalie talks about her little sister who is named Ellie, just like her mentor. Sometimes they are joined by Natalie's friends. They all like Etien, Natalie said.

They share a preference for lunches that aren't cooked at Cooper. Most days Natalie makes her own lunch, but on Thursdays Etien often brings her something.

"It makes my day," Etien said about her lunchtime visits.

Teachers refer students who can benefit from a mentor, Herndon said. The program has been going on for several years, and he's added a few students each year. The school is fortunate to have community members volunteering, he said. The only requirement is that they stay for the entire school year. Although some mentor/mentee pairs see each other outside of school, that's not the purpose of the program. Most of the visits are at lunchtime.

Donny Black, who retired after 40 years in education, is now a mentor for two Cooper students. He sometimes tutors one of his students in the hallway if some extra help is needed. He has lunch with each separately, although he doesn't always eat. He prefers to spend the lunchtime focusing on his Bronco Buddy. Sometimes the kids get excited and forget to eat, he explained, so he has to remind them.

"I enjoy doing it, visiting with the kids, hearing about their interests," he said. "Education was good to me and it's great to be able to give back. You never really retire from it."

Black organizes pizza parties when one of his mentees reaches a goal. He lets his student invite a couple of friends and, if the friend's parents give permission, he brings the pizza.

"They love to invite their friends to a pizza party," he said.

Herndon pointed out that sometimes the pizza parties provide some positive peer pressure when the student's friends know they may be getting pizza.

Phillip Chamberlain also retired from a career in education. He was a bus driver.

"I need to do something and I enjoy being around kids," he said. "It's kept me young and it's something I can do."

He occasionally tutors his kindergarten buddy who, he reports, is a very quiet kid. Sometimes they talk about dogs.

Last week, Chamberlain's student invited some friends to the lunch table.

"He interacted with them and he became a boy," his mentor said.

Some pairs will remain together over several school years, Herndon said, but some mentors will be reassigned when the students switch schools.

"It's fun to watch their relationships grow," Herndon said. The adults in the relationship are friends, not parents or grandparents, so they can provide a sounding board to help their students work out problems.

"I can help them make good choices," Black said.

General News on 04/10/2019

Print Headline: Coooper Bronco Buddies help each other

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