Not so much anymore. “Now, every time I go visit, we talk about everything, draw pictures, make crafts,” Smith said. “I know that she looks forward to seeing me every week and I absolutely look forward to visiting her every week as well.
“We have become very close and I can’t imagine being at Sweet Briar without visiting her.”
The Big Sister program at Sweet Briar is part of EDUC 103: Teaching, Learning and Human Development, a basic education class offered at the College. As part of their coursework, students do 10 hours of field work at Tye River Elementary, either as tutors or Big Sisters.
“In this class, the students learn about foundations of education and also about educational psychology,” Holly Gould, assistant professor of education, said. “The partnership allows our students to go into classrooms and apply what they have been learning about teaching and student learning.”
At the beginning of the semester, Tye River guidance counselor Jonna Clarkson, who also is a 1970 Sweet Briar graduate, pairs the Big Sisters up with a Little Sister or Brother. Visits are made throughout the semester, either in the classroom or during lunch or recess.
It’s important that some time be spent out of the classroom, so the Big Sister and Little Sister or Brother can “build a relationship,” Clarkson said, adding that these relationships are cherished by the Tye River students.
“The kids just love [the Big Sisters],” she said. “They know when they’re expected. Parents will say, ‘That’s the only day I don’t have to get them up.’ [They say] ‘It’s my Big Sister day!’ ”
From all appearances, the feeling is mutual. “The experience so far has been amazing,” Anna Kirkpatrick ’11 said. “I think that Mrs. Clarkson does an amazing job matching us up with a child that we will really click well with.
“I am so blessed to have gotten the Little Sister that I have and we have really formed a great relationship. We have so much fun together every time I go to see her. Even if we just sit and talk it is great just spending time together.”
Kelly Mosher ’12 agreed, calling the Big Sisters program a “wonderful experience,” as did Ebet Davey ’12, who said working with her Little Brother has been “a lot of fun for the both of us.”
On Tuesday, Dec. 9, 17 of Tye River’s Little Sisters and Brothers visited Sweet Briar. While on campus, the kids – divided into two groups – toured Rogers Riding Center and the dorms and had lunch at the dining hall. “[They get] to see where their Big Sisters live,” Gould said.
At the riding center, one excited group of girls peppered tour guide Jordan Fedrizzi ’11 with questions. “Is it real?” one asked, pointing to a horse skeleton on display in the lobby. “Do ya’ll do the barrel run?” another said, prompting Fedrizzi to explain, “No, that’s Western, a different type of riding. … We do mostly jumping here.”
“Is the glass sound proof?” a third asked, referring to the glass between the lobby and the indoor riding arena. “How do you tell them to stop?” said another as she watched the horses and riders circle the arena.
The second group to visit the riding center was lucky enough to tour the barn while the farrier was working. Each child went home with a horseshoe. One grandparent later told Clarkson that her grandson was thrilled with the souvenir.
“She said it’s not like he hasn’t seen one before, but this one is special because of the Big Sister connection,” Clarkson said. “He saw the horse, knows the horse’s name and watched the farrier, and told her all the details of the day.”
Some students described the campus visit as the “best day of their lives,” Clarkson said. “One little girl proudly showed me a necklace that is pink and green and says ‘Little Sis.’ She says her Big Sister has one that says ‘Big Sis.’ She treasures that connection with her [Sweet Briar] Big Sister and won’t take her necklace off.”
Some of the Sweet Briar students – about half, Gould said, including Kirkpatrick, Smith, Mosher and Davey – have chosen to continue being Big Sisters beyond the required semester. Smith said she plans to mentor her Little Sister for two more years, though the fifth grade.
“This program has been such a wonderful opportunity for the kids at Tye River, as well as [for me] and the other girls in the education classes,” Smith said. “It seems like it is a lot of time and effort to take an hour out of a day each week, but in the end it is so worth it.”
– By Suzanne Ramsey, SBC staff writer