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“When I’m in college I want to be just like you!”

Hillsdale College stu­dents often open the journals they share with local ele­mentary stu­dents to affec­tionate entries like this one. Passing the journal back and forth helps the young stu­dents form a men­torship with the college-aged volunteers.

Journal Buddies is a pen pal system between Hillsdale stu­dents and third and fourth graders at Geir Ele­mentary School, offered through Hillsdale College’s GOAL program. The stu­dents write to each other once a week in journals that Paula Skwarek, the program’s leader, drives back and forth between the college and the ele­mentary school. The cor­re­spon­dences are some­times funny, some­times pre­co­cious, and always adorable. 

“At the beginning of the year I had all of the journals dropped off so the kids could choose whatever color journal they wanted and dec­orate it however they wanted,” Skwarek said.” They get to write the first entry with a simple intro­duction. After that, it gets pretty unpredictable.” 

Some of the third and fourth graders take a philo­sophical approach to jour­naling, asking their buddies about their greatest fears and frus­tra­tions, while others like to compare astro­logical signs. Most like to share drawings of their Hal­loween cos­tumes, and still others like to provide prac­tical advice like warnings against dying your hair. 

Junior Emily Brausch, who has been involved with the program for two years, said that her buddy Gentry likes to write about his dad’s farm and his soccer team. 

“It’s fun to see how random his thoughts are,” Brausch said. “What he writes makes so much sense to a child, but every­thing just seems so random to me.” 

Skwarek said that one of her favorite journal entries this year was from a fourth grader moving houses.

“She ranked every house that she visited and was super intense about it. The most important thing to her was a backyard for her dogs to run around in.”

The journal entry reads like a no-holds-barred episode of House Hunters: “The first one was REALLY broken,” she wrote. “Very small and belonged to a smoker so it smelled bad.” In the end, her dream house was the one with a new washer and dryer.

Junior Patrick Rhode said that writing to his buddy Devinn has become one of the high­lights of his week. 

“We only write once a week for a half hour, so it’s not a huge time com­mitment, but it’s a lot of fun to read the journal and have a little laugh,” Rhode said. “When we’re doing our normal college work, having a little laugh once a week is a really nice thing to look forward to.”

The stu­dents also draw pic­tures for one another and attach photos of friends, family, and pets. 

“I promised my buddy a picture of me and my friends, but for a while I was unable to print it out,” Rhodes said. “I finally gave her one and she was so excited to finally see who she was talking to. The writing was bigger than normal and there were a lot more excla­mation points.” 

While the program is fun for college stu­dents and third and fourth graders alike, it also has an impact on the community. 

“It’s really a kind of men­torship program where you’re a big buddy to someone who really looks up to you,” Brausch said. “It’s important to see what he likes and what I can talk with him about so I can be a mentor to him.” 

Addi­tionally, the program is designed to promote literacy. 

“Writing in their journals offers ele­mentary school stu­dents a way to practice lit­eracy in a fun way,” Skwarek said. “It’s not in a strict setting and it’s not graded. They’re just having a con­ver­sation with someone while prac­ticing writing and penmanship.”

Swarek says she hopes to host a “meet your buddy” pizza party at the end of the year. 

“In her last journal entry, my buddy actually said that she wanted to meet me,” Rhode said. “It’s funny how that little bit of inter­action sparks so much intrigue in their minds. Getting to meet our buddies would be a fan­tastic way to end the year.”