Special education resource teachers at the Fort Frances High School have formed a new club that helps build new friendships and create an inclusive environment for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities at the school.

The new Best Buddies Club at Fort Frances High School aims to build friendships between students with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities, break down stereotypes, foster leadership skills and promote inclusion in the community.

“We saw a need for social experiences that would allow our students to feel connected and included in our High School community,” said Marla Knutsen, one of the special education resource teachers who will be running the program along with Alyssa Faragher.

She noted that some students in their special education class had expressed that they wanted to be more involved in the school community, which prompted Knutsen and Faragher to create the program.

Twice a month, activities such as crafts, dance parties, luncheons, yoga class, board games, and more will take place. Peer Buddies will also connect with their Buddies at least once a week either in-person—such as by going on a walk together, visiting the library, or eating lunch together—or by email.

“Buddies” refers to students with intellectual or developmental disabilities, and “Peer Buddies” refers to the student without developmental disabilities.

“It was really our students telling us that they wanted this,” said Knusten. “They’re telling us they really want to make some more friendships and get to know some of the kids in the school.”

The hope is that through newfound friendships with Peer Buddies, many of whom are involved in leadership positions such as student council, Buddies will eventually be included in other activities going on in the school.

“Some [Peer Buddies] are already talking about, ‘Oh, when we go to deliver candy grams [for Valentine’s Day], I’m going to take my buddy with me,’ things like that.”

Knutsen said that everyone at the school is excited to see the program get started.

“The administration was really happy to see that it was going to be coming back, so they were really supportive of it. And the students have been really receptive. And our students here in the special ed department are so excited. They’re counting down, and they’re so excited that our first thing is coming tomorrow.”

On Wednesday December 7, the first “Meet and Greet” event will take place at lunch.

“We will be doing ‘Speed Buddy Building’, which is based off the idea of ‘speed dating,’” said Knutsen. “Mr. Connor’s hospitality class will be making lunch for us so the Best Buddies will have lunch provided and get to know each other more over a meal.”

Knutsen said that they didn’t get much advertising done around the school, but interest to volunteer as a Peer Buddy picked up fast through word of mouth after the initial informational session on November 29.

So far, about 16 students have signed up to participate as Peer Buddies, and around 12 students will be Buddies.

The next big event will be a Christmas Dance Party to end the year with some fun.

“Actually again, it was one of our students who asked us if we could have a Christmas dance, so I was like, ‘Sure, yeah, of course we can,’” Knutsen said.

She said the students will be given the opportunity to dress up, decorate the room, dance to music, play party games, have snacks, and celebrate together before everyone heads off for the holidays.

By Elisa Nguyen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Dec 08, 2022 at 16:10

This item reprinted with permission from    The Times    Fort Frances, Ontario
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