Mexico Public Schools is bridging a connection between their students and community members through their partnership with Bright Futures USA.
The non-profit organization based out of Joplin, Missouri, encourages school districts to connect with their local communities. The organization’s affiliates are located in eight states. Missouri is the most active in the program with 27 participating school districts according to Bright Futures website.
Mexico Public Schools hosted a luncheon Oct. 4, for community members serving as mentors for Mexico students to celebrate the anniversary of the Bright Futures partnership.
Mexico’s Bright Futures Coordinator Jo Ann Diffenderfer says the district began the partnership about two years ago and initiated a program called Lunch Buddies, which allows members of the community to pair up with students, eat lunch with them and serve as mentors.
“We’ve had lunch buddies who had communication issues with administrators at the school,” Diffenderfer said. “When they meet with a lunch buddy, that’s just a friend of theirs that’s come to eat lunch, and they talk and they interact and they’re able to share some good things in their lives.”
Eugene Field Elementary counselor Amy Auwarter says her school has about 45 lunch buddies now, including retired teachers, retired grandparents, people from city hall and community members from many other careers. She says when the lunch buddies come to the school, the class lights up.
“I have kids coming up to me all day long, every day asking when their lunch buddy is going to come,” Auwarter said. “They’re very excited.”
Auwarter says attendance seems to go up because students never know when their lunch buddies will come to school. Discipline referrals and trips to the nurse also go down when they visit.
Bright Future’s Mexico affiliate extends even further than the lunch buddy program. Diffenderfer says they also connect with the Community R-6 and Van-Far school districts, both a part of Bright Future and a part of Audrain County, to implement different programs. Currently, these county districts are asking people to donate socks as part of “Socktober,” which they can distribute to students whose parents aren’t able to buy them. Residents are able to donate at the Mexico Chamber of Commerce.
Diffenderfer says that both students and adults are empowered because of the Bright Future program.
“I saw a little girl run at least 50 feet over to her grown up to give them a hug and she said ‘My lunch buddy’s here! My lunch buddy’s here!’” Diffenderfer said. “You knew that that child never knew that grown-up outside of school, outside of anything, and if it wasn’t for that program, that child wouldn’t have had that positive role model in their life.”