“Not that hard to give up your lunchtime for kids!”

21 Dec 2016

When Lily, a student at Plunkett St Primary School, was in Year 1, she would sometimes try to impress her ‘Big Buddy’ Melissa Mendez by ‘reading’ her picture books upside down.

“I would say to her ‘Lily, I think you’ve just memorised the words’,” recalls a smiling Mendez six years later.

Mendez, and her alternate Big Buddy colleague Greg Armstrong, recently farewelled Lily at the Macquarie Group Foundation’s annual Big Buddy end of year party. With her moving on to high school in 2017, they have watched her grow from a little kid who muddled up her words to a “lovely young lady” reading chapter books.

“I think Greg and I have been really lucky that both he and I have been able to be with Lily for the whole time she’s been at the school,” Mendez says. “That consistency has been fantastic – and it’s really not that hard to give up your lunchtime for kids!”

The Foundation has coordinated the Big Buddy program since 2005, matching primary school students (Little Buddies) with Macquarie staff who can help them practise their reading skills once a week.

Plunkett St Public School principal Juliet Sonter commended the program and described the one-on-one reading relationship the students enjoy as “amazing”.

“There is also the opportunity for the children to revise what they have recently learnt at school with the Buddies, which some of them may not be able to do at home as normally happens,” she says.

Mendez has found that visiting Plunkett St once a fortnight has brought back memories of what it’s like to be at primary school, and the books that she herself read at Lily’s age.

“What I’ve enjoyed about Big Buddy is not only meeting these fun, little kids, but also learning about Lily along the way, and getting away from my desk and being a child for a period of time,” Mendez says.

“When Lily started to read longer, bigger books, I found that really satisfying because we could then share books that I used to love, like Roald Dahl’s The BFG, or Hating Alison Ashley. We’d read alternate pages and talk about the story together, plus work through any tricky words or pronunciation.”

If Mendez continues with the Big Buddy program, she will begin a new reading partnership with another Plunkett St student. But the special thank you card that Lily gave Mendez at their final class together, as well as Lily’s description of her and Armstrong as “two of the coolest people she knows”, means it won’t be a relationship quickly forgotten.

Image caption: Greg Armstrong and Melissa Mendez with Lily, the Little Buddy they’ve read with for six years.