Learning From Experience

Monday was our second opportunity to engage in our Cougar Buddies program.  Once again it was an absolutely incredible experience!  Having enjoyed my trip to IMAGINE Valley with our 9th graders at Thanksgiving, there was no way that I was missing this second trip.  In our first visit I was blown away by the wonderfully positive interactions between our 9th graders and the IMAGINE Valley students.  On this trip something else hit me, the learning…

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When we first conceived of the idea of Cougar Buddies there was a buzz of energy in the room – what a great opportunity for us to build community at our school!  Connecting the Middle and High Schools with Early Childhood and IMAGINE, building relationships with students who wouldn’t normally interact…it was an exciting concept.  In our first Cougar Buddies, at Thanksgiving, we saw this excitement play out, our teachers loved it and more importantly our students loved it!  This experience was different, in a good way…actually it wasn’t different, so much as it was better – it was improved, it was deeper, it went beyond meeting new people, smiling, and having fun.

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In our first trip to IMAGINE I stood with Carolina Ulloa (one of the outstanding leaders of the IMAGINE programs) and we watched.  We watched as students met and engaged for the first time.  We watched as some 9th graders dove in and immediately developed meaningful relationships with their Cougar Buddies.  We watched as IMAGINE students joined the excitement with smiles and we watched as a few retreated in tears.  We watched as some of the 9th graders retreated (without the tears!) to a more comfortable distance; it was clear this was pushing their comfort zones.  It concerned me, I was disappointed seeing these “big kids” hold back.  However, being as amazing as she is, Carolina encouraged me to be patient.  “Give them time,” she said, “I’ve seen this before.  Some kids need to sit back and watch for a while before they jump in, that’s okay.”  She couldn’t have been more correct, our second visit proved that!

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Based on stories I’ve heard from teachers and students alike, the experience I’m describing wasn’t unique to the 9th graders visiting IMAGINE Valley.  This scene was playing out in classrooms all around our campus and what a beautiful scene it was.  Our second Cougar Buddies visit opened new doors, chances for those who sat back and watched during the first visit to wade in a little further and test the waters.  It was amazing!  

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Students who had previously been little more than a fly on the wall were now diving right in, playing, laughing, and enjoying the experience.  The pleads for more time with Cougar Buddies were repeated during this second visit.  The laughter and stories heard on the bus ride back to AC were filled with joy and happiness.  Our students, both young and old, have taken full advantage of the opportunities provided by our Cougar Buddies time.  

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Building the Academia Cotopaxi/IMAGINE community, #LearnInCommunity, was one of the main drivers in our initial planning of Cougar Buddies.  While that goal has certainly been achieved we’ve also seen incredible growth and learning come in just our second visit.  Many of our students don’t have siblings with such a large age difference, or siblings at all.  The experience of interacting, even just sitting down and playing together, is one that is new to many of our students.  What an incredible opportunity for them to step out of their comfort zones and face new challenges!  This was the best Cougar Buddies experience yet; with the awesome growth seen between visits one and two I have high hopes for the future of this initiative!!

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