Courtney Landry, a fifth-grader at Greencastle-Antrim Elementary School, has four cats and Calvin McLaughlin, an eighth-grader at the middle school, has two. That's something the two Math Buddies learned about each other during a recent session in the middle school gym.

The partnership between Barbara Eadie's fifth-graders and Andrew Geesaman's eight-graders not only improves the students' math skills, it is building connections between younger and older students.

Talk about cats came from a word problem the students tackled:

How many cats are there in the United States?

Clue: There are 8 million more cats than dogs in the U.S. and there are 1.16 million dogs per state.

Answer: 66 million.

Courtney and Calvin did not get the answer right, but they learned a lot trying.

Teacher Barbara Eadie, whose fifth-grade students were already Book Buddies with kindergartners, came up with the idea of Math Buddies after thinking about a question asked by district resident Percy Rock at a school board.

"It came from a question that Percy posed a while back about how does a child go from an innocent kindergartner to an active shooter over the course of 10 years or so?" Eadie said.

Fifth-graders congratulate their kindergarten Book Buddies with praise, smiles and high fives as they read aloud and master challenging words.

"So, I started thinking, 'How can I replicate this at a higher level?'" and Math Buddies was born, according to Eadie.

The first meeting in December featured a glyph icebreaker (a glyph is a visual representation of data), and more than two dozen pairs of students spread out on the gym floor decorated a snowman using data collected from each other before they embarked on math problems.

"I looked around the gym and saw students of different grades working together, coloring together, talking, smiling and helping each other," Eadie said.

Fifth-grader Kinley Myers is paired with eighth-grader Breanne Cruse.

"I like math," Kinley said at the group's second meeting, while Breanne added, "This helps them learn how to do math better."

"I like to help younger kids learn," Calvin said. "It was a struggle for me in their grade and now that I know it, it is good to help them out."

"I like working with someone older," Courtney said. "If Calvin doesn't know it, it refreshes his memory."

"I'm hoping these connections will help build self-esteem, self-confidence and a compassion toward each other that helps them avoid problems in the future," Eadie said.

Geesaman said that during the sessions "my kids get a chance to model being a young adult and being a mentor."

Eadie thanked Geesaman for "taking time for this adventure" and administrators for approving it.

She also thanked "Percy for reminding us that we, as a district, as a community, as families, don't just teach math, science, social studies and reading, we teach children."