Forest Hills Elementary School fifth-grader Maddie Douglass says being a member of the Friendly Falcon leaders at her school taught her an important lesson in friendship.
"If you're young or old or short or tall, you can always be friends with everyone," Maddie says.
She and the other almost 40 members of the Friendly Falcons are poised to fly away to junior high school in the fall, where they'll be underclassmen again. But in the 2016-17 school year, they learned what it means to be a role model. That leadership is all part of the group founded at the home of the Falcons in the 2015-16 year by teacher Mary Neerhout and former counselor Connie Johnson.
This past year, counselor Hayley Drimmel took up the jesses to gentle these young Falcons. Drimmel says the soul of the group is peer mediation, with students intervening at break time when kindergartners have disagreements.
"It's sort of like their community service, how they give back to the school, and the little kids just love them and adore them, and it's really amazing," she says.
Reports of disagreements among the littlest students have dropped considerably, fifth-grader Lauren Vance says.
"At the beginning of the year, we had more problems, but by the end of the year they learned how to solve their own problems," Lauren says. She says it's OK if there are problems, though, because "everybody makes mistakes."
What kinds of problems do kindergartners have? Fifth-grader Kate Pulley explains that Friendly Falcons intervene, for example, if someone swipes another kid's ball at recess, and then there's a lesson to be learned.
"You can tell them to share," Pulley says.
Fifth-grader Maxwell "Max" Brauner says he likes to play games with the little kids and assist them in solving problems.
"It also teaches you great leadership skills that will help later on," Max adds.
Victoria Li says it's a big responsibility to look after and teach the younger kids, but she doesn't mind.
"They're really cute," Victoria says.
And Payton Cavagnaro notes that this program isn't just about the fifth-graders or even the cute kindergartners.
"It ties our whole school together," she says.