By Christine Sampson
Pierson High School senior Sophie Lattanzio spent her summer reflecting on her experiences last year in the first year of the school’s International Baccalaureate program, a rigorous set of classes and exams meant to prepare students for college and the world beyond.
She came to the realization, she said, that having a mentor to help her get through the tough times would have been meaningful. So she got to work hatching a plan to create such a mentoring program, in which senior IB students would pair up with juniors to help them navigate what many of them describe as their sometimes strange, usually challenging and almost-always-rewarding school environment. Social activities such as trivia nights are also planned, and non-IB-related conversations are also encouraged.
The result? “iBuddies,” which has the full support of the Pierson administration.
“The biggest thing I want to get out of this is camaraderie,” Sophie said in an interview. “So far, I’ve had a lot of positive responses. I was worried I wouldn’t have a lot of seniors as mentors, but almost everyone in 12th grade signed on. It makes me very happy.”
Pierson assistant principal Michael Guinan, who is in his third year at the school and who runs the IB program, said Sophie deserves a lot of credit for coming up with such a great idea. He himself had hoped to do something like this for the IB students, but the timing was never right during his first two years at the school.
“Our hope is the program helps build relationships, camaraderie and teamwork that is mutually supportive through an incredibly challenging academic program, and that they have fun,” he said.
Bay Burger recently sponsored a kick-off lunch for the iBuddies, who gathered in what Mr. Guinan described as “diverse groups” to work together.
“I really loved the conversations that I saw,” he said. “They weren’t with their best friends — we did that intentionally — and they were really talking about nuts-and-bolts ways of managing the work. It was everything we hoped for and more.”
Some of the senior mentors said it feels good to give back to younger students.
“We learned a lot going through the first year of IB,” Catherine Spolarich said. “It’s always great to help someone be their best self.”
“I wish I had somebody to advise me last year. I feel like I can do that for someone this year,” said Isabella Di Russa.
Some of the juniors in the program said they are happy to have the help.
“I’m most grateful for the companionship. They can relate,” Emily Hallock said. “They know when you’ve been up all night doing an assignment, and offer you help to maybe get you through it better than they did.”
Graham Di Lorenzo said he had been concerned about how hard the program was going to be. “It was nice to meet someone who was one year above, who assuaged my fears, who made it out alive,” he said.
Emily called the program “the best thing that’s happened at our school this year,” and junior Bradley Drubych said he thinks “a lot of people will benefit from it and it will bring new people into the IB diploma program.”
iBuddies counts as a required “community, activity and service” project for Sophie’s IB diploma track. She said she is grateful to both the seniors and juniors for their participation.
“I’m hopeful it carries into the future, for as long as the IB diploma is at Pierson,” she said.