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Plans unveiled for Best Buddies program at Hampton High School

| Tuesday, June 20, 2017, 9:00 p.m.

A new Best Buddies chapter planned for Hampton High School next school year will pair special-needs students with other peers and has already garnered a lot of interest, according to program advisor.

Best Buddies, a nonprofit, student-driven international organization that aims to harness friendships and provide for socialization opportunities for all students, especially those with disabilities.

Special-needs students may not be seen at the typical teenage social events, such as football games, dances or just getting pizza with friends, said Zdinak, who is also an emotional support teacher at the high school. Best Buddies pairs a non-special needs student with a disabled one to create these social opportunities.

“That social piece is very hard to have, especially for those with intellectual or developmental disabilities,” said Zdinak.

Monique Mawhinney, director of pupil services, said the Special Education Advisory Committee researched a number of programs that would help facilitate the “development of natural friendships between students with and without disabilities.”

“Our goal is to build one-to-one friendships between students with and without disabilities through school and community socialization opportunities in order to help erase the invisible line that often separates students with and without disabilities,” she said.

The “buddies” are those students who self-identify as having special needs. The peer buddies are those who signed up to create social opportunities for them.

Best Buddies Pittsburgh held an informational meeting at the school was held in May from a representative o after which nearly 40 non-special needs students signed up to join. Zdinak said perhaps the reason it's so popular is because these students may have a family member or friend that has special needs and they recognize the importance of helping out.

“We're very lucky to have the student body we do. It's so refreshing, especially for teenagers and the world we live in to recognize other people with needs,” he said.

Along with a monthly social event, some of the peer buddy role is to occasionally text or call their special needs friend. And Zdinak, who lives in Ross Township, said they'll begin in September at the onset of football games, an ideal place to get that typical teenager social experience.

Much like a fraternity or sorority, they'll have monthly meetings to plan for events. Almost 15 students have shown interest in part of a leadership team which partly consists of a president, two vice presidents, and treasurers.

“Our student leaders really stepped up and have some really great ideas,” he said.

Regular education and special education teachers will work with the program, too.

The application was presented to the school board at their June 5 meeting.

“I know our students will make Hampton proud, and I look forward to watching genuine friendships continue to grow as we implement the Best Buddies Program,” said Mawhinney.

Natalie Beneviat is a Tribune-Review contributor.

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