By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools
Carter Hazlett feels good.
It’s not just because he is a healthy seventh-grader at Siegel Middle School, which he is. It’s because Hazlett enjoys helping students with special needs as a study bud volunteer.
Mature beyond his 12 years — he will turn 13 in February — Hazlett said it makes him feel good when he’s “able to help somebody else.”
At Siegel, the pre-teen’s selflessness is not an anomaly. It’s a culture Kim Stoecker has strived to develop among the student body since taking over as principal. And the ever-growing study bud program is a testament to her schoolwide efforts.
The study bud program has been around since Siegel’s earliest days.
The idea for the program was originally brought to Siegel by Kathy Liggett, who had previously spearheaded the program at Smyrna Middle School. It gained the support of then-department head Debbie Cook — Liggett and Cook are no longer at Siegel — before receiving final approval from then-principal Tom Delbridge.
Edie Sessions and Craig Dziduch are currently co-department heads for special education and oversee the study bud program. The program provides study buds to work with students with disabilities before school and throughout the school day.
Over the years it has become one of the most popular programs offered by the school.
The program has grown and evolved to a point where, for the first time, there is a waiting list to become a study bud. Nowadays students apply and commit to one quarter at a time — though they usually participate from one school year to the next — and their participation takes the place of their elective class. Students like Hazlett and others are responsible every single day for assisting teachers and staff with their assigned duties.
Second-year teacher Hayley Mengaziol utilizes study buds to assistant her students during their inclusion classes, while other study buds help facilitate daily lessons. Study buds also do a lot at work stations designed to improve future job skills like filing and sorting.
“It’s great with helping our kids become more independent,” said Mengaziol, who referred to study buds as “a wonderful program” that has created “an accepting environment.”
First-year teacher Ashley McAteer said, “They’re given a lot of responsibility and I set high expectations. At first, it’s probably a bit overwhelming but they rise to those expectations.”
Hazlett is currently paired with a student in an inclusion class for social studies.
They gather in the back of the classroom so they work on assignments together.
“It’s fun to help the ones that more challenged — the ones who need a lot of help — because it’s fun to explain (the lesson) to them and to see them gradually get better,” said Hazlett, who often comes in on his own before and after school.
Hazlett heard about it from his best friend Samuel Mobley.
“I thought about it a lot and prayed about it,” said Hazlett, who began volunteering last year. “It was God’s will for me to do this. God told me through prayer and I came back and got an application.
“That’s pretty much where it all started.”
The culture of giving backhas been cultivated from the very first day the doors were opened at Siegel Middle.
Delbridge started it and Stoecker has continued emphasizing the importance of every child in her school finding a way in which they can give back to others.
“Our kids are proud of that and we’ve worked hard to build it,” Stoecker said of the pride every student and staff member have when it comes to supporting one another, especially when it comes to students with special needs.
McAteer said, “That’s part of what we teach them, you are an example.”
“We hopefully created a culture here, where we’re all human beings,” Stoecker said. “Yeah, there might be some difference between us, but they have really bridged that gap. When kids (in the study bud) program walk up and down the hallway, they will give the kids (with special needs) a high five. They want to be recognized as the kids who work with them.”
Like Hazlett, other study buds — eighth-graders Parker Crane and Mahala Scott among them — displayed a maturity beyond their youthful pre-teen years just in their willingness to give up their own time for the benefit of someone else.
But that’s why they chose to do it.
“I like helping the kids out,” Crane said. “That’s my favorite part.”
Crane added, “We all have feelings and we’re all the same. I prefer being in here, but I have to go to classes.”
Last year, Crane was recognized with a study bud award for his efforts.
In addition to life-lessons in being selfless, study buds learn firsthand about having compassion and empathy for others, especially those who are less fortunate than them.
Hazlett said he was initially influenced by his parents and a passage in the Bible that taught him not to keep everything to himself and to share with other whenever he can.
“It’s good to feel you were able to help somebody else,” he said. “If somebody is stuck on a math problem or needs help getting through an iReady lesson, it’s good to feel that you were able to help them do that.
“Maybe next time they’re able to solve it on their own.”
McAteer said, “A huge part is understanding other people’s needs.”
Scott, who plays volleyball and is a member of the BETA club, agreed.
She recalled working with a former student.
“She had such a hard time with stuff,” Scott explained, who added “She (was) so fun. I don’t even know, she’s funny and very smart and I have compassion for her.”
Scott said many of the students she’s been paired with, who have disabilities, also “have creativity in their minds and they use it all the time.”
Since becoming a study bud in the last quarter of the 2017–2018 school year, Scott has been inspired by Mengaziol, and is considering following in her mentor’s footsteps and pursuing a career in special education.
Mengaziol is not surprised.
She said after reflecting on their experiences as a study bud, participants oftentimes consider a career in education. In fact, before attending college, Mengaziol was a peer tutor in middle and high school.
“Our students love seeing familiar faces,” said Mengaziol, who noted study buds and special education students grow together during their time at Siegel Middle. “They can take it into (Siegel) High School too. They have the same thing over there.”