(Posted Aug. 18, 2016)
By Lori Smith, Staff Writer
Making lifelong friends is the goal of the new Best Buddies program at London City Schools, which will roll out at the middle school and high school starting this fall.
Best Buddies International is a non-profit organization that pairs student volunteers with students who have disabilities. Founded in 1989 by Anthony Kennedy Shriver at Georgetown University, Best Buddies has since grown to over 1,500 college, high school and middle school chapters in the United States and internationally.
“We’ve been in Ohio many years,” said Emily Reed, Best Buddies program manager for Ohio.
Chapters are in place at Ohio State University, University of Dayton, Miami University, Grandview Heights High School, Loveland Middle School and Kings Junior High School, among others.
“We came in with six chapters, and the interest was just overwhelming. For the 2016-17 school year, we will roll out 12 new chapters.”
Another 20 to 25 schools are on a waiting list.
“We’re hoping to grow and it’s going to happen very quickly,” she said. “Every corner, every county is my personal goal.”
Cheryl Stauffer, director of special services at London City Schools, said parents initiated the push to bring Best Buddies to London.
“I had some personal experience with the program from the one my son attends at Ohio State,” Stauffer said. A student with special needs, Stauffer’s son is in his second year with the same buddy.
“I think it’s been wonderful. He has been socially active. He has someone to text every now and then and check in with,” Stauffer said.
Best Buddies uses a portal system to match students with intellectual and developmental disabilities with other students within the school they may not meet otherwise based on common interests, activities and availability. They are encouraged to do group activities monthly, as well as “check in” weekly via text, phone call, email, social media chat and face-to-face interaction the rest of the month.
“For example, they might pick a football Friday where all of the Best Buddies sit together and go out for pizza afterward,” Stauffer said.
Other activities being considered for the London program are bowling, movies, watching an OSU game together, and picnics.
Stauffer said the high school already has a similar program that matches students based on school work, but Best Buddies takes it to the next level by using the portal to match the students based on their interests and makes sure that they are checking in on a regular basis socially.
“The portal makes it a lot easier for students and families who want to engage,” she said.
Reed said participants typically have great success with the Best Buddies program.
“The kinds of students we see getting involved are the kinds of students who believe in the mission of inclusion,” Reed said. “We teach our students how to be better leaders, and we teach our students with disabilities how to be better advocates for themselves. It really brings our students together as a networked student body.”
Reed said her goal for this year at London City Schools is to make at least 10 matches and create a solid leadership core, while Stauffer said she would like to see it evolve into a student-led project.
“We want them to be front runners for their classmates,” Reed said.
Reed hopes to see representatives from London attend the Best Buddies leadership conference next July.
“This past year was our biggest conference yet with 2,300 participants,” she said. “I would love to see one or two students from the London chapter participate next year.”