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Union Academy Launches Big Cardinal-Little Cardinal Program

Union Academy Launches Big Cardinal-Little Cardinal Program
Kellie Streater

Developed to bridge the gap between high school and elementary students, the Big Cardinal-Little Cardinal (BCLC) initiative doesn't just offer tutoring in reading and math; it's a testament to the power of mentorship and the profound impact of peer support.

Developed to bridge the gap between high school and elementary students, the Big Cardinal-Little Cardinal (BCLC) initiative doesn't just offer tutoring in reading and math; it's a testament to the power of mentorship and the profound impact of peer support. “This program has felt like a full circle moment for me. The teacher whose classroom I help in was my 2nd grade teacher as well, so being back in her room has been an amazing experience,” marveled Lidia Coan (12th).


Union Academy kicked off the first BCLC program during the 2023-2024 school year. In a school of approximately 2,100 students ranging from Kindergarten to 12th grade, this program epitomizes the perfect way to bring students together in an educational environment.


The BCLC program was developed for high school students to provide individualized and group tutoring to students from Kindergarten through 5th grade. High school students assist with both reading and math in hopes to not only help the younger students see improved academic achievement but also to enhance their confidence within the classroom. For those needing help with reading, the high school tutors focus on phonics, decoding, fluency, and comprehension. If math is a struggle, the tutors will use flashcards to help learn math facts. Sometimes a child needs help with a homework assignment, and the high schooler will assist with a problem or simply be supportive as they attempt to work through an assignment on their own. 


During this first year of the program, 50 high school students signed up to help. Through several training sessions, they developed the tools needed to guide students on an individual level and in a group setting. Amani Simpson (10th) who assists students with homework in one of the 2nd grade classrooms, said “I can see the benefits [of this program] from when I spend time with the younger kids and I can see them improve in their math and reading skills.” 


In addition to utilizing students to enhance educational growth, “Big Cardinals” are also encouraged to foster relationships with the “Little Cardinals” in order to support character development as the younger students grow and progress through their time at Union Academy. In fact, this program is so important that Lidia Coan comes to UA specifically to tutor in the mornings before attending her classes at SPCC. “My favorite part of this experience has been the relationship building with the lower school students. They know me and are comfortable with me at this point in the year. They are excited to see me! I was only coming to help once a week at the beginning of the year but I’ve loved it so much I now come to the classroom twice a week,” said Lidia. 


Not only do the younger students benefit from the peer tutoring but the high school students benefit by developing interpersonal skills and personal accountability. MacKenzie Gielow (9th) works with the 5th graders on reading homework and told me, “I've gained a lot from this program. I've learned social skills from having to talk with different teachers and the younger students. I have to manage my time so I've become more responsible. I've grown a lot from being a part of the program."


The teachers at Union Academy are incredibly supportive of BCLC. They can see the impact the presence of an older student is having on their Lower School students. But the impact doesn’t stop with the students, it has a ripple effect that reaches into the teachers lives as well. The program is inadvertently building bridges between students and teachers. Joy Huber, a 1st grade teacher who has worked at UA in the Lower School since 2014 said, “I personally love getting to know a student that is outside the age range that I typically teach each day. It's nice to speak into their life and let them know that another person cares about them and is here if they need anything.” It’s clear that the reach of the BCLC program can go far beyond the walls of the classrooms.


Parents of Lower School students are seeing the positive results of the program at home as well. One of the 5th graders recently shared with her family some majors she wanted to pursue once she graduated, all of which would require her to be a great math student. She then told her teacher the areas of math that she wanted to improve upon and was assigned a “Big Cardinal”. Her parents happily stated that, “Every Tuesday and Thursday, we arrive at school early for tutoring. We are proud to report that she is now a straight "A" student, and her confidence in math is fantastic. We are grateful for the "Big Cardinal" program and to everyone responsible for putting it together.”


In its inaugural year, the BCLC program has provided immeasurable help to students from Kindergarten to 5th grade with peer tutoring and support. This program is certain to expand and grow over the next year and into the future. When asked what she would tell a high schooler who is considering joining the program, MacKenzie Gielow said, "This program has been more rewarding than I expected. It's a great way to get volunteer hours but you also get more out of it than you initially think you will." 


This program couldn’t happen without the students who are willing to dedicate their time and teachers who are willing to support them. The new Big Cardinal-Little Cardinal program may have started as a way to let high schoolers gain volunteer hours by providing tutoring but it has grown into much more. It is exciting to see UA initiate a program with so much potential on the eve of its 25th school year, proving that the school is still focused on Challenge, Character, and Community as it prepares its students for life after Union Academy.