The Bronco Buddies Program, started by Senior Education Major Michaela Bailey, seeks to connect students at Lincoln Elementary School with college student mentors. Last year, student athletes would visit and play with Lincoln Elementary students at lunch and recess. This year; however, the program has shifted to a pen pal program with more than 56 student athletes signed up to write letters.
Bailey and Director of Student Athlete Development Laura Hurley were thrilled with the amount of responses for the pen pal program.
“I was a little worried, I didn’t know what the response would be just because it was a change because people really enjoyed going.” Hurley said. “But the response has been amazing.”
The program began last year after Bailey completed her junior year education clinical at the elementary school. She discovered how important it is for students to have strong role models and make connections, and wanted to find a way to increase those connections.
“I saw how powerful it was for me as a college student to be able to go in and form those relationships and I saw how much those students were craving those relationships and looking for role models,” Bailey said.
Her connection with the students inspired her to come up with a way to get other college students involved. She decided lunch time was the best option since it wouldn’t take away class time and allowed the students to be themselves. She connected with Hurley to get student athletes involved.
“Last year we had 30 college students that were broken up into two lunch periods,” Hurley said.
Volunteers were given a sack lunch so that they could eat with the students, then join them for recess. College students would visit every two weeks, but due to the popularity of the program, Bailey said that students wished they could visit every week.
“I would have kids at school ask me, ‘when are your college friends coming?’ It became something the students looked forward to and teachers loved it because it was such a positive relationship,” Bailey said.
Volunteers will not be able to attend the school in person this year due to COVID-19 precautions. In order to continue to connect with students, they have shifted to the aforementioned pen pal program.
“The inspiration I got for pen pals was actually from a student…Last year when our Women’s Soccer team was going to Nationals one of the students…had written a letter to his Bronco Buddies on the Women’s soccer team wishing them good luck and saying that he loved getting to play with them at recess,” Bailey said. “I thought that if a student took the initiative to do that on their own, how cool would it be if we gave college students the opportunity to write back?”
In addition to the connections that can be built through letter writing, the pen pal program has many educational benefits as well. Students will have more practice with reading and writing skills and the teachers and students at Lincoln are all enthusiastic about the program.
The program was first directed towards student athletes so they could have more mentorship roles. However, it is now open to anyone who is interested in getting involved.