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By Anja Filan, AmeriCorps member serving on the Bank of America team with Young Achievers Science and Math K-8 Pilot School

The clock struck noon, and the 4th-grade hall filled with speed-walking footsteps. ”Where’s Ms. Anja!” a student asked, as he marched into the City Year room.

“I’m right here!” I quickly replied, peeping my head out from behind the fridge on the other side of the room.

“It’s time for Lunch Buddies! We’re playing rainbow Jenga. Come on!” the 4th-grader eagerly reminded me. (Rainbow Jenga is a version of Jenga in which each piece is coded with a different color. The color corresponds to a question such as, “What is your biggest dream?” Or an action such as, “give a compliment to the person on your left.”)

Just as we do every week, we claimed a table in the City Year room and began reflecting on the day. We had a brief conversation about the day’s hot lunch and began a game of Jenga. Our lunch buddies sessions are incredibly valuable and have resulted in significant social-emotional growth for my students.

“Lunch Buddies” is a City Year initiative designed to provide students with small-group behavior coaching and leadership building. I have six lunch buddies, each of whom I have developed particularly strong relationships with as a result of our weekly lunches. I’ve heard their stories about their family dogs and “crazy” siblings. I know what type of Dorito is their favorite (Sweet Chili won by a landslide, might I add), and which Monster High character they best relate to. I get a chance to see my students outside of the classroom and build relationships that have made them stronger students in the classroom.

My fellow teammates are equally proud of their lunch buddies. “My Lunch Buddies sessions have been incredibly important in my students’ social-emotional development,” explained Jackie Clements, one of my team’s social-emotional coordinators. “It gives us the time to build deeper relationships that we can’t always build during class time.”

Jackie’s lunch buddies keep reflection journals and monitor their attendance in their sessions. She has noticed significant growth in her students’ classroom behavior and overall attendance.

Lucia Ansara noted the importance of reflection time with her students, as she has recently created Reflection Logs. “I had each of my Lunch Buddies write letters to themselves, which we will go back and read at the end of May. My students log their weekly SMART goals, track improvements over the course of the year, and reflect on challenges.”

“Lunch Buddies provides time for self-reflection, a skill imperative for student growth,” agrees Hope Landry.

Bri Hayes explained, “It is often challenging to find a regular time to meet with my middle school students. Fred*, one of my lunch buddies, did not want to come and eat lunch earlier this year; however, after spending time working with him in our extended day program and in class, he asks if we can have lunch daily. We set goals to bring up his math grade and review homework. He knows I enjoy spending that time with him and now looks forward to our lunch buddies sessions as well.”

Lunch Buddies has been one of the most memorable, challenging, and rewarding experiences in my year of service. It has allowed me to get to know my teammates’ students, strengthened my relationships with my own students, and allowed me to understand my students’ unique personalities outside of the classroom. The Bank of America team with Young Achievers Science and Math K-8 Pilot School has truly established a strong Lunch Buddies community.

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