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Give your time, gain a friend

Emily Peck and Autumn Botz were paired through the District 206 Student Match program. Emily, a Jefferson High School student, mentored the Lincoln Elementary student during three years in high school. Even though she is now in college, the two still spend time together whenever they can. they are pictured here during a Student Match bowling event. (Contributed photo)

Neither Emily Peck nor Autumn Botz thought they were getting a lifelong friend when they joined the District 206 Student Match program, but that might be what has happened.

Emily joined Student Match when she was a sophomore at Jefferson High School (JHS) in Alexandria. She was matched with Autumn, a 2nd grader at Lincoln Elementary School in Alexandria.

Emily was a little worried about finding time for the program since she was already involved in two sports in addition to other extra-curricular school activities and had a job.

Autumn was a little worried about spending time with a complete stranger.

It didn't take long for both girls' fears to vanish. Emily didn't find it difficult to find time to spend with Autumn, and Autumn found it easy to warm up to Emily.

"She was really shy at first," Emily recalled. "I thought she was going to be hard to get to open up, but I just kept acting more weird and she finally opened up!" she said, poking Autumn.

When asked what Autumn first liked about Emily, she replied, "She was funny and I liked all her facial expressions."

She also liked the idea of having a "big sister," since she only had two older brothers.

It didn't take long before a lasting bond was formed.


The Student Match program requires a high school student to spend at least four hours a month with an elementary student during non-school hours, preferably every other week for two hours at a time.

Emily and Autumn found plenty of things to do together. They went to a movie, to the waterpark, bowling and sledding. They carved pumpkins, played games, cooked, baked and made scarves.

They enjoyed group activities with other Student Match participants, attended Beetles games and spent time visiting over hot chocolate at Dunn Brothers coffee shop.

It didn't take long before three years had flown by. Emily graduated from JHS and is currently a freshman at St. Scholastica in Duluth.

Autumn is a 5th grader and keeps busy with baseball, dance and soccer.

But both still find time for each other. They get together in the summer and when Emily is home on college breaks.

Autumn has Emily's phone number and knows she is someone she can call anytime she needs to talk.


This year, there are 25 Student Match pairs in the program. According to Lynn Ransom, District 206 youth service coordinator, that's down from past years.

"We can always use more," she said, "but it's a commitment, and the kids have to be a good match."

Interested high school students apply to be in the program. They are interviewed and references are checked.

"We look for kids who are involved, have positive outlooks, who enjoy education and who enjoy kids," she said.

The high school students selected for the program undergo training and meet monthly with adult program supervisors for ongoing support.

Group activities are held monthly for all Student Match pairs as well.

To those who might be thinking about joining Student Match, Emily says, "Definitely do it! You think it will take a lot of your time, but it really doesn't."

"And time flies when you're having fun!" Autumn added.

"These relationships take a while to build, but often what happens is that some lifelong friendships are created," Ransom concluded.


Student Match is a mentor program of companionship between high school and elementary school students.

The program goals are:

--to promote positive self-esteem

--to promote a friendship

--to help a younger person develop peer relationships and social skills

--to have fun with a younger person and other high school students in Student Match.

Program organizers begin recruiting high school mentors in grades 10-12 each spring for the next school year.  

Interested students must complete the application and provide references by May 25. Interviews and mentor selection take place in September. 

For more information, contact Lynn Ransom, District 206 youth service coordinator, at (320) 762-5287.

Tara Bitzan

Tara Bitzan is editor of the Echo Press. She joined the company in 1991 as a news reporter. A lifelong resident of Douglas County, Tara graduated from Brandon High School and earned a bachelor of arts degree in mass communications and English with a minor in Scandinavian Studies from Moorhead State University. She and her husband, Dennis, and their children live near Alexandria.

(320) 763-1211