From High School to Elementary: Forming Friendships with CSF’s Big Buddy Program

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Art/Photo by Lauren Ng

Friendship is in the air as CSF’s Big Buddy program pairs members with younger Little Buddies to spend time with. Playing online games and making crafts over Zoom are among the multitude of activities students participate in. CSF’s Vice President of Tutoring Riya Thakre (12) shared that some members creatively construct “little obstacle races in their home and race their Little Buddy online.”

Lauren Ng, Staff Writer

   Whether you’re 17 or seven years old, everyone needs a friend. However, it’s much more difficult (and more awkward) to strike up a conversation with a breakout room partner on Zoom than a seat partner in the classroom. West High’s California Scholarship Federation (CSF) presented members with the perfect opportunity to meet someone new: the Big Buddy program. Fostering highly-desired social connection, the program has allowed students to create new friendships across both physical barriers and age gaps. 

   Riya Thakre (12), the CSF Vice President of Tutoring, is in charge of organizing the Big Buddy program. It pairs CSF members with students from local elementary and middle schools. She explained that the motivation behind Big Buddy was sparked by pandemic isolation: “We realized that a lot of kids don’t get the kind of social interaction that we had when we were that age… a lot of them having been losing confidence, they’ve been really socially isolated from other kids their age, so we really wanted to bridge that connection.”

About 90 of the 240 students in CSF last semester became Big Buddies. The program has served as a gateway for students from a variety of ages to take part in de-stressing activities. “When we interact with people who aren’t our ages, it’s kind of eye-opening to see how other people live their lives,” Thakre described. For West students in particular, the program is a convenient way to “get away from all the stress that comes with online school.”

   CSF member Jason Agus (11) became the Big Buddy of a 3rd grade student last November. As Agus discovered, the two may not be as different as their eight-year age gap suggests. “Oddly enough, one of [my interests] correlated to another interest of his, which has been great,” he expressed. Agus and his Little Buddy have recently been talking about computer programming together, which has become something for them to bond over.

   Watching YouTube, playing video games, and socializing are among other activities they enjoy. While their hour-long video calls only occur once per week, having a Little Buddy has still impacted Agus. Simply “having someone to talk to often” has “[lightened] up the mood of my week,” he said. As most students have found in the virtual school year, weekly repetition can feel never-ending. In contrast to hours of studying and homework, Agus believes that “it’s nice to have that social interaction to break up that monotony.”

   Another Big Buddy-Little Buddy pair is Eliana Cheng (10) and Victor Elementary 2nd grader Natalia. From taking BuzzFeed quizzes to drawing pictures, the pair has met up on Zoom once a week for the past three to four months. According to Natalia, she draws “ice creams, people, [and] rainbows” with her Big Buddy. “I love how we laugh,” she added.

   Cheng noted that because of the eight-year age gap between her and Natalia, they normally never would have crossed paths: “I’m very grateful to be able to talk with her as it has helped me gain experience talking with younger kids, which could possibly be useful in the future.” Ironically, the pandemic has facilitated connection between some individuals rather than hindering it.

   Natalia’s mother has observed positive effects stemming from her daughter’s weekly meetings with Cheng. She noticed that Natalia is “a little bit more confident… this was something she could do on her own, and I think that was really special for her as well.” Meeting with a Big Buddy can further benefit the mental health of Little Buddies: “It boosts [kids’] self-esteem to have someone so much older pay attention to them, and to see that they value their time together. I would have loved that when I was a kid,” Natalia’s mother said.

   Having a Big Buddy has also provided Natalia with the opportunity to use English, as she speaks other languages at home. Because of the virtual school year’s restrictions, her mother felt “very worried about how much English she’s getting to speak.” But by spending time with Cheng, Natalia has not only been able to practice her English, but also have fun and make a new friend.