By Julie Huss
---- — DERRY — They’ve been pals for quite a while.
Gage Barbour and Alan Mendonca are often joined at the hip on the special days when Alan arrives at South Range Elementary School as part of Pinkerton Academy’s PALS program.
PALS — Pinkerton and Little Students — forges relationships between high school students and elementary students for monthly visits, special activities and games.
It’s a successful partnership that has lasted for decades.
“There are a lot of kids that need someone to look up to,” said Alan, a sophomore. “I want to be a good role model.”
That’s the premise of the longstanding Pinkerton club, giving younger students someone older to share time with, learn from and have fun with.
Gage and Alan have been buddies for more than a year. On one particular visit, the pair played a game of Jenga.
Gage, a fifth-grader, said he and his older friend share a lot.
“We talk about a lot of things,” he said.
South Range teacher Lisa Mataliano said it’s important for the elementary students to find that niche where they can bond with an older student and spend time together. It’s a help to both age groups.
Sometimes a student needs that added connection, she said.
“They enjoy that extra hour of fun,” Mataliano said. “And the older ones take on the responsible role of being a leader.”
That gives the PALS students a chance to do their own activity planning prior to coming to the elementary schools.
“It’s very kid friendly,” Mataliano said. “It’s kid run. That’s what’s nice about it.”
Pinkerton freshman Alyssa Greig has many reasons for being part of PALS. One was key.
“I just like kids,” she said.
Brittany Langlais, also a freshman, said she had a big buddy when she attended Derry Village Elementary and always liked having that older companion around.
PALS advisor Patricia Hicks said the club is very popular at Pinkerton, with about 150 student volunteers signed up to visit the district’s elementary schools on a regular basis.
Many of the students are paired with the younger children and retain that relationship.
“It’s important to have that bond that they make,” Hicks said.
In another classroom, first-graders Shane Stone and Kevin Lee were attempting to win a card game against Pinkerton junior Kirsten Rickershauser.
“This is a great program,” Kirsten said. “I’m hoping it also looks good on a resume, but it’s just fun.”