For the past year and a half, Hanna Krueger has been Katie Jesso’s Big Sister.
In the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, Hanna, 17, has made friends with Katie, 8. The two of them have enjoyed reading at the Rama Road Elementary library, playing on the playground and doing math worksheets together.
Katie has Down Syndrome.
Hanna, who graduated from Charlotte Country Day, moved to Charlotte her junior year from the Boston area. She initially signed up to be in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, but said she wasn’t expecting to be matched with a special needs student.
When Sue Augustine, the program coordinator, asked her if she would like to be Katie’s Big Sister, Hanna was apprehensive.
“I obviously was scared at first, but now I’m glad I did it,” Hanna said. “I had to break down my own limitations and walls, then it was like working with any other kid.”
Katie is shy around people she doesn’t know, but at Rama Road, she’s a rock star. The “big kids” smile and say hello to her in the hallway, and she waves back. She wears pink-rimmed glasses and sneakers with pink laces, though purple is her true favorite. And she loves to read.
At Hanna’s last trip to see Katie, the two headed to the library, where Katie made a beeline for “The Bravest Woman in America,” by Marissa Moss, which is based on the life of famous lighthouse keeper Ida Lewis. “It’s my favorite,” she said.
The pair settled into in oversized chair and Hanna opened the book.
Katie gripped the right side of the book. “OK, I’m ready.” Hanna read the first page, and Katie the next, with Hanna helping sound out the big words.
Though Katie was too shy to talk about working with Hanna, her teacher filled in the gaps: “She definitely loves it when Hanna is coming,” said Kristin Seegars. “She won’t concentrate on anything until she gets here.”
After moving in the middle of high school, Hanna decided to get involved with the Big Brothers Big Sisters partnership between Country Day and Rama Road Elementary when classmates told her it was fun.
Hanna said it took a while for Katie to feel completely comfortable around her, and vice versa, but after a year and a half, the two are as good friends as can be who see each other for 45 minutes once a week.
Hanna will be leaving North Carolina to attend college closer to home, at Amherst College, where she’ll play lacrosse. She might take time to go abroad and work with her older brother, who works at an orphanage in Tanzania.
But when she visits North Carolina during college, she said, she’d love to stop by to see Katie. She said she’s glad she got to be a part of Katie’s life.
“I feel pretty blessed to have had the opportunity,” she said. “I like to think I taught her, but I also think she taught me.”