Leadership and Friendship Go Hand-in-Hand

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Cleghorn and Warren Hall may be far apart, but the relationships between high school and lower school students are close-knit. As a K-12 school, Wesleyan values the chance for students of all grades to interact outside of the classroom. High schoolers have the opportunity to invest in the lives of lower school students year-round through a variety of clubs and activities.

Every Friday during club time, Hand-in-Hand participants head down to Warren Hall to tutor and befriend elementary students. High schoolers help younger students with classwork, crafts, reading and many other activities. Sophomore Aubrey DeAugustinis joined the club as a “way to interact with a new group of people during clubs, not just the normal high school community. My favorite part is the kids that I get to hang out with. I am not always put in the same classroom, but I love getting to know the lower schoolers; they are all so kind and funny!”

Whether it is helping second graders with math homework or running around on the playground with the Cub’s Den, Hand-in-Hand members have their hands full with activities. Senior Emma Watkins has been a part of the club for three years. She said, “It’s just so much fun! It’s a great brain break after a long week. When I enter the room, they get so excited to see me, and it makes me feel so good. They’re always like, ‘I didn’t know you were coming today!’ and my heart melts.”

The friendships high schoolers build with lower school students are not limited to club time, however. On Wednesday mornings, many students volunteer with Before Care, a program for lower schoolers who get to school early despite the late arrival. Senior Ansley Jones said, “Before Care is my favorite activity because it’s weekly, so I see the same people every week and build relationships with the kids. I think it’s a great way to build a bridge between the high and lower school. I love them so much; they are some of my strongest friendships, even though I’m a lot older than them.”

Lower school students have no lack of older mentors here at Wesleyan. In addition to volunteering with clubs, Wesleyan also offers paid opportunities for high schoolers to engage with younger kids. The After School Enrichment Program involves classes for lower school students, including sports, arts and crafts, baking and more. High schoolers can sign up to help with these classes and earn a paycheck for their service.

Junior Jamie Roberts worked with the lower school baking class in the fall. “I love kids, and I love to bake, so this class combined two of my favorite things,” she said. “It is a really unique experience; you’d never get to do this at another school. Lower schoolers love high schoolers, and it’s a cool thing for them as well as us.”

Director of Auxiliary Programs Kelly Weatherly coordinates the Enrichment Program, as well as summer camps. “I love the relationships they build—how our high schoolers are leaders and how excited those kids get when they see the older students. The high schoolers get the responsibility of that leadership: making an impression and being a role model, whether they know it or not,” she said.

During the summer, high school students have the opportunity to serve as camp counselors, or counselors-in-training for the underclassmen. According to Weatherly, having older Wesleyan students lead the week-long camps “really does help us fulfill our Wesleyan mission by engaging all kids K-12, especially because most of the kids do not attend Wesleyan. It’s a great way to show off our school.”

Year round, lower school students look up to older role models, whose influence is undeniable. Many high schoolers who now volunteer remember being in the shoes of the younger students years ago. “I remember thinking the high schoolers were so cool and such great leaders,” said Jones. “Once I got to high school, I knew I wanted to be a camp counselor, so kids can look up to me and have a friend in the high school. I think Wesleyan is such a special community because of that.”

DeAugustinis reflected on her journey from kindergartener to high school volunteer. “I have already made so many meaningful memories this year as a part of Hand-in-Hand. It’s a nice way to go back to my roots. I’ve gone to Wesleyan since Kindergarten, so it’s nice to give back where it all began.”

For any high schooler looking to engage with younger students, applications for summer camps and enrichment classes are now open. Weatherly, who oversees the process, said, “I am looking for someone who understands the Wesleyan mission and is willing to live it with the younger kids. High schoolers add such a great value to our school. Here is a way for them to connect, give back and feel valued to the community.”

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