Boca Raton challenged summer intern Casey Farmer, a journalism major at Lehigh University and a graduate of Saint Andrew’s High School, to bring a personal perspective to one of her writing assignments. Farmer chose to look back on her high school mentoring experiences as a participant in Big Brothers Big Sisters of Palm Beach and Martin Counties. This is her report.
When I applied to be a Big Sister during my junior year at Saint Andrew’s, I didn’t know what to expect. I felt strongly going in that I could have a positive impact on a less-fortunate student, and, from my research, Big Brothers Big Sisters seemed to excel at fostering such connections. While the organization can and often does have a powerful influence on its “Littles,” I quickly learned that the experience isn’t entirely magical.
My first Little Sister match was a first grader named Sarah; the following year my little was a third grader named Olivia* (the names of both students have been changed). We met for about an hour every Wednesday, and the time was typically split between doing homework and a fun activity. Since instilling better study habits was such a priority, we couldn’t play until our Littles finished their homework.
Both of my Little Sisters struggled in school; weak academics is a common thread for children entering the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. Even so, I was still shocked at how far behind both girls were. Sarah had a hard time reading three- and four-letter words and solving basic addition and subtraction equations, while Olivia was held back a grade. Most of their academic issues seemed to stem from the fact that they rarely completed homework unless prompted. Often, our Big Sister meeting was the only day that week they completed their assignments; one meeting a week, I soon realized, was not enough.
The similarities between my two Big Sister experiences ended there.
My first year as a Big Sister, we met at an outdoor activity center that hosted an aftercare program for several elementary schools. For various reasons, we were not allowed to meet there the following year, so we met in a classroom at an elementary school instead. The two settings provided very different atmospheres for our meetings, and I believe this had an impact on my time with Olivia.
While the elementary school was a safer, more organized place to meet, I preferred the activity center. Being outdoors allowed the kids to let off steam easier, and being mixed with students from other schools taught them how to build relationships. At the school, we were almost always confined to one classroom, which was sometimes an issue when the Littles wanted to play soccer or catch. In addition, only including kids from the same school often brought classroom drama that interrupted our meetings.
The activity center setting, by offering more space and options for playtime, seemed to enhance my relationship with Sarah. In contrast, the classroom backdrop complicated my time with Olivia, who often was the center of the aforementioned drama. We always seemed to struggle to carve out quality time together.
Despite the difficult moments, being a Big Sister was very rewarding. Seeing the excitement in my Little Sisters’ faces when they finally figured out their math homework or when they passed the FCAT made all the struggles worth it. I wish I could have kept in contact with Sarah and Olivia to see if the program had lasting effects on them, but we are discouraged from doing so for safety purposes.
Being a Big Sister wasn’t the easiest way to fulfill my community service requirement in high school, but mentoring a child who needs strong role models is reason enough to join this program.
Casey Farmer is a sophomore at Lehigh University studying journalism and business, who is interning at Boca Magazine this summer. Casey spends most of her time on the golf course, both recreationally and as a member of Lehigh’s team. Aside from golf, she loves iced coffee, Zumba and dogs. You can reach Casey at firstname.lastname@example.org.