Pictured are St. Joseph Catholic School first-grade and eighth-grade students during their first week of school, praying over each other and praying for peace. (Submitted photo) 

For the past 28 years, St. Joseph Catholic School in Rice Lake has taken a peer participation approach to reading.

Students in first grade and eighth grade are paired together for the entire school year in the Reading Buddies program. They meet every Friday, and it quickly becomes the most anticipated day of the week for these students.

The eighth-grade students have a responsibility to help younger students with their reading skills and to also set a good example. Eighth-grade students have done an excellent job of helping to develop academic and social skills in first-grade students, school officials said.

Rochelle McRaith, a retired St. Joseph School teacher and now a daily recess duty volunteer, has been with this program since its inception. At that time, she felt that the eighth-graders needed an opportunity to reach out to others and recognize they have a duty to be good role models to younger students in the pre-kindergarten- to grade-eight school.

Christie Nielsen, the eighth-grade homeroom teacher, shared, “It is heartwarming to watch the older students get excited to buddy up with a younger student. They always reminisce about their buddy when they were in first grade. Reading Buddies at St. Joseph Catholic School has become a tangible way to show the love of Jesus to another person.”

Melissa Handorf, first-grade teacher, has really enjoyed watching students grow and connect with one another.

“They really start to bond with each other, and it is a joy to witness their love for reading grow,” she said.

This school year, the Reading Buddies decided to use prayer to start their time together. The students said they would like their prayers to help unite the community and ask for peace in our world.