New parent engagement: Extending your school’s buddy programs

Many of you will be familiar with the concept of buddy programs – Preps or Year 1s pairing up with older students acting as a role model for children who are navigating the intimidating step of starting primary school. Buddying is also used to support primary students transitioning to secondary school, and students who switch to new schools after moving location.

Buddy systems help older students learn how to be a positive role model, and to build confidence in their knowledge and abilities. They also give younger students a mentor to look up to, and someone to come to if they are feeling nervous or anxious in a new environment.

It’s not only the students, however, who may require this kind of support when starting at a new school.

Beaumaris North Primary School, located in the Melbourne bayside suburb of Beaumaris on Port Phillip Bay, has buddy programs bringing together Preps and Year 5s, Year 1s and Year 6s, and new students and peer buddies. But they’ve also extended it to a less common pairing – for over 5 years now, they have been running a buddy program for new and existing parents.

‘Many of our Prep parents are familiar with the school as they have older children here, but for those who are enrolling their first child in primary school this buddy system can be a reassuring and valuable form of assistance,’ Assistant Principal and PSD Coordinator Jo Taylor tells Teacher.

How does the program work?

‘… the aim is for new parents to the school to be matched with a "buddy" in the form of an existing parent who can basically show them the ropes and support where needed,’ Taylor explains.

Under the program, all new parents are automatically allocated a buddy when their child starts at the school, and the existing parent they are matched with is encouraged to reach out to the new parent by organising to catch up for a playdate, coffee, or phone call over the holidays, and to check in during the new parent’s first Term. However, it is up to the new parents how much interaction they choose to have with their buddy and participation in the program is optional.

There are many types of support new parents can access through the program. ‘This is often related to school routines such as drop-off/pick-up, canteen, uniforms, volunteer opportunities, as well as access to the contact details for the year level cohort to help with play dates and making new friends,’ Taylor explains. ‘The parent buddy also connects the new family to the Parent Representative for their year level, who keeps them in the loop regarding events.’

Lasting impacts for new parents

Taylor reports that the impact of the program has been extremely positive, not just for families settling into a new school, but for parents who are moving into a new community.

‘In conversation recently with a family who had relocated from England, they passed comment that if it wasn’t for the strong support systems they could access via programs like the buddy system they would never had settled in so beautifully,’ she says. ‘They attributed their happy children and strong social circle to this.’

The President of the Parents and Friends Group at the school also reflects on the lasting impact of the program on friendship: ‘I found it really beneficial when starting at the school and not knowing anyone … I am still great friends with my buddy all these years later.’

Parent buddy programs can strengthen the school community and help new parents (and students) feel welcome. Do you have a buddy program at your school? Is there an opportunity to extend these opportunities to include a program for new parents?