MOUNDRIDGE — For the past 20 years now, third graders at Moundridge Elementary School have been partnering with a high school basketball player, which has resulted in the Moundridge Basketball Buddy Program.

Third grade students are paired up with boys and girls high school basketball players who become their pen pal.

"Starting at the beginning of the season, they write a letter and the high schoolers correspond. We actually end up writing three letters throughout the basketball season like pen pals," said Ellen Kaufman, third grade teacher at Moundridge Elementary School. "Last week, we had buddy day that's held at the beginning of January and where high schoolers come over to the elementary school and spend two hours with us and do getting-to-know-you activities. Then we have an autograph session and go into the gym to shoot hoops with one another, and then we have a lunch together."

The pen pal-oriented program has grown past an organized activity — it’s grown into friendships between the students involved.

"They absolutely love it. They really look up to these high schoolers. To me, one of the most exciting parts is sometimes to see the cycle. I've been doing this for 14 years now and just to see those third graders to go on and play basketball in high school and now play the role as a high schooler — that's just a lot of fun," Kaufman said

Kaufman explained that friendships and role models have grown outside the classroom as well.

"I had a high schooler last year go over to his buddy’s house and play basketball with him. That student really needed that extra lift. They absolutely love it. Its also important for those high schoolers to be a role models to the younger kids too," she said.

Not only are the high school basketball players involved, the coaches play a part too.

"On buddy day last week we had to find a way for the high school students to come over and then the coaches spoke to each third grade class and talked about the importance of being on a team and what it takes to be on a team," Kaufman said.

With a large support system between the students, the third graders support their buddy, and in return, Kaufman said the high schoolers support the younger kids on their own time.

"Some of the third graders actually play basketball on our recreation team and some of the high schoolers actually take their Saturday morning out of their time to go watch their buddy play," she said.

For more information, call 620-345-5500 or visit their website at https://usd423.org or follow their Facebook page.

Contact Brooke Haas by email at bhaas@mcphersonsentinel.com or follow her on Twitter @ MacSentinel.