How to Start a Buddy Program

Data shows that Buddy Programs inspire learning and create positive and lasting connections between individuals, families, and schools. As the volunteer and Buddy get to know one another, trust builds and everyone becomes more invested.

In St. Louis, HOME WORKS! has engaged volunteers to partner with schools and engage with young students and their families. 

In our Buddy Program, some pairs have regular meetings to read together. Others check in to praise students for participating in school and to confirm that their technology tools are working properly.

Strong, positive relationships are built on consistency, communication, and intentionality. It’s important that every interaction with students is positive because research by Carol Dweck and others shows that praising children for their effort, which is known as “process praise,” can foster the most essential attitude for success -- the belief they can improve through effort. Process praise can inspire students to keep working at challenging tasks.

What does a volunteer Buddy do? 

Volunteers typically read to their Buddies for 15-30 minutes each week, by phone or Zoom. They also send one or more positive texts to the parent or guardian, and to the student. To measure impact and keep the school informed, HOME WORKS! buddies are asked to keep a record of their involvement and any notable results in this tracker.


How are students chosen and assigned to volunteer Buddies? 

Students are typically chosen by their teacher because they’ve had low attendance or low engagement in classwork or learning. The teacher believes additional contact will help the student become more excited about learning and more likely to attend school every day.

I must admit I was a little nervous when I first became a volunteer Buddy, but it has proven to be such a joyful experience. My student Buddy is so enthusiastic. Over Zoom, he even introduced me to his little sister and gave me a tour of his room in between reading from our books. The teachers are so helpful as well.
Chris Schmiz, Buddy to a second-grader

Why should volunteers read with their Buddy?

According to the American Educational Research Association, a child who can’t read on grade level by 3rd grade is four times less likely to graduate by age 19 than a child who does read proficiently by that time. Studies also show a correlation between low literacy and incarceration. Reading with a proficient reader can spark a new reader’s interest and help improve their skills.

How often do volunteers talk with their Buddies?

HOME WORKS! has found that it is critical to connect at least once a week for about 15 minutes to a half hour. Virtual meetings can take place during the school day, or after school hours or on weekends. Once a pattern is established for the volunteer and the student, consistency is key for the 1:1 meetings. Texts that confirm meeting times, or express encouragement in between meetings, can be sent at any time. 

How do the volunteer and family connect for the first time?

For the first interaction, HOME WORKS! provides volunteers with this script. We also offer this “Get to Know” outline in case it is useful. After the first interaction, you may want to adapt this second script for volunteers who want additional guidance. 

What tools are available for reading virtually with a buddy?

There are some great reading resources online. Storyline Online features stories with Black characters. The Open Student Library, which requires users to set up a free account, sorts books by grade level. Your local public library also is a great resource for online materials.