Big Sis, Lil Sis

Eighth graders lining up, forming a tunnel for the fifth graders to run though.

I am walking down the sidewalk, relishing the beautiful fall weather, when I hear echoes of high-pitched screams coming from the Middle School. Curious about what is causing such a ruckus, I eagerly make my way to Flippen Hall, where I find over sixty eighth grade girls in the courtyard lined up, cheering as loud as they possible could, excitement radiating of their faces. Today, October 26th, is the Big Sis, Lil Sis reveal.

Starting Middle School is an intimidating process. Students go from being the oldest, and the leaders, in the Lower School as fourth graders, to being the youngest, and least experienced, in the Middle School when entering fifth grade. To ease the transition for fifth grade girls, Catherine Flippen, the Head of the Collegiate School for Girls in the 1960s, came up with the Big Sis, Lil Sis program. Each eighth grader is a Big Sis, and each fifth grader is a Lil Sis. Missy Herod, Upper School Associate Director of Student Life at Collegiate and an alumna, said Flippen “was a big proponent of making sure all of the girls knew each other.” Each eighth grader is paired with a fifth grade girl to be a mentor, which helps the fifth grade girls feel less overwhelmed in the crazy and exciting environment that is Middle School.

The eighth graders are assigned their fifth graders at the beginning of the year, but the fifth graders don’t find out their who their Big Sis is until the reveal party in October. Leading up to the reveal, they write letters back and forth with details about themselves, like their favorite candy, sport, color, etc. Using the letters, fifth graders try to guess who their Big Sis might be. Eighth graders, on the other hand, use the details from the letters to come up with a theme that their Lil Sis will like. The eighth graders make matching t-shirts for themselves and their Lil Sis and base their t-shirts around the theme.

A Big Sis, Lil Sis pair wearing their matching t-shirts.

Looking back on my own experience being a Big Sis and a Lil Sis, it is remarkable how just seeing one more familiar face in the hallway makes the start of Middle School less daunting. I asked my Lil Sis, Zehma (‘22), who is now a Big Sis herself, her favorite part about Big Sis, Lil Sis, and she said she “likes writing letters to my Lil Sis and getting letters back from her.” I then asked Copeland (‘25), Zehma’s Lil Sis, her favorite part about Big Sis, Lil Sis, and she said “getting to meet [her] Big Sis at the end.” Molly W. (‘22) said she “likes the whole experience of getting to know a fifth grader and helping guide them.”

Fifth grade advisor and humanities teacher Kate Kate Cunningham said her favorite part was “seeing the excitement on the fifth grade’s faces and also seeing my former fifth grade’s faces and seeing how equally excited they are.” Maria Benson, eighth grade advisor and Middle School French teacher, said her favorite part “is the bonding between an older student and the wonderful role model she can be for a fifth grade girl.” Caroline (‘25), said her favorite part “about it is the mystery” and Alice (‘25) said “the most fun thing is the secret letters.” Overall, the Big Sis, Lil Sis program is always a highlight of the year and a great opportunity to bring the Middle School girls closer together.  

All photos by Claire Deal.

About the author

Claire Deal is a junior at Collegiate.