Making friends in school
Best Buddies Club members make crafts together at a holiday gathering.

Photo by Bay Shore School District

Making friends in school

Story By: LIZ FINNEGAN
12/28/2017


BAY SHORE—Sometimes forming good friendships in school can be difficult, and that mission can be a lot harder for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Best Buddies Club, though, makes it a whole lot easier. The Bay Shore School District is one of only 12 districts on Long Island that offers this program. According to the district’s participants, it has made a world of difference.

Michael Lord, a math teacher at Bay Shore High School for the past 18 years, is now an advisor for the in-house group for grades 9-12. He said the idea for it there was actually the brainchild of a Bay Shore alumna, Olivia Civardi, who had worked for that organization. “She knew I had an autistic child and she thought that I’d be a good facilitator [for the program],” Lord said.

Lord said another teacher in the district, Raeann Mariella, was also instrumental in making the program happen. “She got this up and running,” he added.

Best Buddies was founded in 1989 at Georgetown University by Anthony Kennedy Shriver. It is now an international nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that provides opportunities for people with IDDs by helping them to form one-on-one friendships in addition to various mentoring programs. It can now be found in more than 1,500 colleges, high schools and middle schools around the country and the world. The basic mission is to end the isolation experienced by people with IDDs.

“Best Buddies fills a need that we currently have by providing social opportunities for students with disabilities,” said Michele Teelucksingh, Bay Shore teacher and another advisor of the program. “We hope to create a more inclusive environment for our students with special needs.

“Extracurricular activities, such as Best Buddies, have closed the gap between the two groups of students…Not only does it help the students with special needs with socialization, it also helps the typical students immensely by enriching their experience and teaching them tolerance, acceptance and building various aspects of character,” Teelucksingh continued. She noted that high school senior Bryn Schlussler, president of the club, had attended a Best Buddies Leadership Conference at Indiana University in preparation for the club’s kickoff in the district.

Schlussler said she realized the need for this club after participating in a similar mentoring program, Athletes Helping Athletes. “When I was a sophomore, I began working in a special education gym class,” she said, adding that she continued working there for two years.

“It was very rewarding because I got to see a different side to things. [The students] got to know my friends,” she said, adding that through that meeting, the special-needs students met other people who then became their friends. “It’s been a chain reaction,” she remarked.

The club, which currently has 61 members, meets weekly and holds two activities a month with their buddies. Those activities include bowling, shopping, or making holiday cookies together.

“The Best Buddies program may only be in its infancy in Bay Shore High School, but the results are already outstanding,” said district superintendent Joe Bond. “We wanted to give the special education [students] the opportunity to be in a school setting… and attend activities with the kids they see in their neighborhoods.”

Lord noted that as a parent of a special-needs child, he certainly appreciates the work of this program. “It was tough for [IDD students] to make friends,” he noted. “Hopefully, these [Best Buddy] friendships will last a lifetime.”

For more information about this organization, go to the website www.bestbuddies.org