WEST COLUMBIA, SC -- Ask any of the Brookland-Cayce High School student mentors about their favorite part of the lunch buddy program at Saluda River Academy for the Arts, and they’ll likely have the same answer.
Those smiles were on full display during a recent visit to the school, when several Saluda River students stood up at their lunch tables and waved, grinning widely, as their buddies entered the cafeteria.
Tiffany Aull, a teacher and yearbook adviser at Brookland-Cayce High School, said roughly 15 of her students participated in the six-week lunch buddy mentor program, in which the older students paired up with Saluda River students to talk, play games – like solving Rubik’s cubes – and get a few tips about succeeding in school.
“I encourage all high school students to be role models for younger students,” Aull said. “I too think that when high school students make good decisions they need to be recognized for it. This was one way they were recognized. Many of our students who participated in this lunch buddy program at Saluda River are student-athletes, and they had the opportunity to talk to these younger students about high school sports and what they need to do academically to play sports in high school.”
Lexington Two’s tight-knit community means the district’s older students look for a variety of ways to have positive interactions with younger students, from attending their performances, to participating in lunch buddy and reading buddy programs, to opening car doors for students in morning drop-off lines, and much more.
Aull said Saluda River nurse Stephanie Sturkie initially contacted her about the possibility of a lunch buddy program. Aull, Brookland-Cayce’s yearbook advisor, asked her students if they wanted to be part of the program, since the yearbook was nearing completion. All stepped up to join.
Jaire Drayton was among them.
“What I like most about this program is being able to walk in the cafeteria and see the kids' faces light up with joy and excitement,” Drayton said.
The relationships the high schoolers built with Saluda River students have extended beyond lunch.
“My students took it upon themselves to attend the younger students’ talent show and a school play at Saluda River, on their own time,” Aull said. “The younger students definitely made an impression on my students.”
The lunch buddy program recently wrapped up for the semester, but Aull hopes there might be an opportunity for a similar program next year.
“I love how excited the younger students got when they saw my students come every week,” Aull said, “and it has certainly been something my students have loved as well.”