Big Brothers Big Sisters: Fostering Confidence, Building Bonds and Transforming Two Schools

Spring 2024

Nose Creek Elementary School exudes warmth with a giant “Welcome” greeting visitors. The school, located in Airdrie, is experiencing rapid growth, serving 660 students with more than 35 home languages. Amidst the challenges posed by the pandemic, the school sought to foster community and connection.

Learning Assistant Becky Harper took the lead in discovering a solution. She stumbled upon the Teen Mentoring Program by Big Brothers Big Sisters, where high school students from nearby W.H. Croxford served as mentors to younger students facing adversity. The prospect excited her, envisioning a return to a sense of normalcy.

“I didn’t know that Big Brothers Big Sisters was in schools,” Harper shared. “It was such an exciting time when we invited Big Brothers Big Sisters into our school because we started thinking about how we could go back to where things were.”

Every Thursday, Harper and Big Brothers Big Sisters Mentoring Co-ordinator Binta Omorogieva welcome teen mentors into the elementary school. Their sessions often started with book readings or literacy games that helped boost mentees’ confidence and skills. These activities reframed literacy, making it enjoyable for students who previously found reading frustrating.

“Some of our kids, literacy is not their favorite thing but the way it is framed, they don’t even realize they are doing literacy,” said Harper. “They are just there playing a game, and it happens to be a literacy game, but it doesn’t matter because they are doing it with their mentor.

“I definitely feel that this gives the Nose Creek students such a boost in confidence. They feel important and they feel like they matter. They know that those high school kids are only there to see them,” shares Harper. “We picked a couple of kids this year to be part of the program that don’t always have the best attendance, but they are never away on Thursdays because their mentor is there.”

Harper shares another heartwarming story: “This student was quiet and shy and he often couldn’t make it through the day because his tummy would hurt. Perhaps some signs of anxiety. He was sharing that maybe school wasn’t a place he could be at the moment.” He was paired with a mentor who went above and beyond, even volunteering at the elementary school on days when his high school ended early.

“After, these two started having their mentoring sessions together,” Harper noted, “Now he says Hi to people in the hallway whereas before he would try and hide. He’s more confident and he can’t wait to see his mentor come to the school. He looks forward to Thursdays. He’s even taking his hood off, something he only does when he feels comfortable.”

The program, Harper says, brought the two schools closer, bridging the gap between high school and elementary levels. “I think it is a fantastic program. It brings communities together. It brought two schools together … our two schools have bonded.” When asked about bringing Big Brothers Big Sisters programs into other schools, she says, “I would encourage any school to do it. You would never be disappointed you tried it; you would be disappointed that you didn’t.”