March 26, 2014

Mentoring, tutoring program pairs athletes, elementary students in Fort Mill

At Orchard Park Elementary, students work with high school athletes to work on homework and build relationships.

When Orchard Park Elementary school teacher Kim Price saw a student “slipping through the cracks” last year, she knew she had to do something. The student needed someone to give him a little extra help with some classwork and, more importantly, someone to serve as a role model.

So she called Fort Mill High School athletic director Dwane Hartsoe. He asked what he could do to help.

“I said, ‘I need some A plus athletes,’” Price said.

And “Buzzing with Buddies” was born.

Each Wednesday morning, a group of academically gifted Fort Mill High athletes get up early and drive to Orchard Park, arriving an hour before their classes even start. They spend a half hour with their “buddies,” students who need a little extra time and personal attention.

Last year, there were 10 sets of “buddies.” This year, the number expanded to 20.

“This is actually where I went to elementary school, so it’s fun coming back,” said Fort Mill senior lacrosse player Carlo Harneit. “It’s great to see the kids.”

Harneit and his fellow athletes work on whatever their buddies need help with, from fractions to spelling, Price said.

Even though it’s early in the morning, senior cheerleader Rachel Lanier said participating as a buddy is a much more productive and rewarding way to spend her Wednesdays.

“I feel like I’m helping him,” she said of her buddy.

In one corner of the classroom, Mitchell Thompson, a senior basketball player, works with his buddy, a special-needs student who uses an iPad to communicate. Thompson reads to him and asks him questions, which the student answers, sometimes seriously, sometimes in a more silly fashion.

“I think Coach Patenka is bad (at) basketball,” the student typed, and Thompson cracked up, because the student was writing about Ryan Patenka, Orchard Park’s gym teacher, who was helping supervise the buddies.

“He likes to make jokes,” Thompson said. “He’s such a funny kid.”

The student likes to give Thompson a hard time about his choice of college for next year, the University of South Carolina. He gives USC a thumbs down and Clemson a big thumbs up and a smile.

At the next table, Orchard Park student Miya Neely sat with her buddy, tennis player Mya Reeves.

Reeves is “sweet,” Miya said.

“It helps me get better grades,” she said of the work the pair do together.

This year’s pairs of buddies only have a few weeks left together before many of the high school students graduate. Price said the high school students will be missed because many of them have grown very close to their buddies, even spending time with them outside of school.

“You see the bond they make and how sad they are to leave,” Price said. “It just melts my heart.”

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