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‘She helps me feel calm’

Marshall High School Bigs program boosts Littles’ emotional growth

Sometimes all a child needs to stay engaged in school is having one thing to look forward to. For some Marshall students that something is a Big Brother or a Big Sister.

Walters Elementary School principal Paul Holbrook sees firsthand the difference a Big makes in the Littles’ lives. “There are a lot of kids who need another positive relationship in their lives,” Holbrook says. “They may have difficulty connecting with their peers. I see the Littles develop a connection with their Bigs and they feel valued.”

All three Marshall elementary schools have a High School Bigs program where Marshall High School students mentor the younger students. Once a week, the Bigs arrive at the elementary schools right after their school day is finished but before the younger students are released.

The High School Bigs are good for the Littles, Holbrook says. The Bigs’ visits are “the highlight of the Littles’ day, their week even.” And, Holbrook says, these friendships often lead to emotional advancement for the Littles. “The Littles need someone who feels they are important, someone to listen to them. The emotional growth in the Littles is apparent.”

Big Sister Kirsten Miller has seen changes in her Little Brother Steven during the more than two years they have been matched. Each week, the pair start their time together working on fourth-grader Steven’s homework, followed by playing. “His spelling has greatly improved,” Kirsten says. “He was spelling really short words when we were first matched and now he’s spelling ‘important.’ He amazes me.”

When asked what he likes best about his Big, Steven doesn’t mention homework or playing but instead makes a rather mature observation for a fourth-grader: “She helps me feel calm.”

An important part of the High School Bigs program is the impact it has on the Bigs, Holbrook says. Occasionally a Big is a former Walters’ student and it’s gratifying to see the transition they have gone through from elementary school to high school, he says. “I like seeing what it does for the Bigs: their compassion increases as well as their patience.”

Before they meet with their Littles for the first time, Holbrook meets with the Bigs to stress the importance of their new role in the younger students’ lives. He applauds the Bigs for the responsibility they take on when they become Bigs. “They could be hanging out with their friends but instead, once a week, they come here and spend time with their Littles. It says a lot about the Bigs’ character.”