Thomas Jefferson High School launches Best Buddies program
There were hugs and lots of laughs as five Thomas Jefferson High School students met their new Best Buddies at a party thrown just for them.
Dressed in matching cowboy hats, tiaras and cooking attire, the new pals hit it off within minutes, some already planning to go to the movies together and talking about their similarities.
Thomas Jefferson High School this year launched a chapter of the Best Buddies program that provides students with any type of disability with a peer mentor from the school.
Best Buddies is an international nonprofit dedicated to ending the social, physical and economic isolation of people with developmental and intellectual disabilities.
“It’s inclusion,” said Jade Fiore, supervisor of special education. “It shows that we’re inclusive in all areas in the district. Not only are we thinking about relationships and social within the school day, but we want to branch out. It doesn’t stop just because dismissal has happened and we want students to have true friendships, no matter what level you are.”
Thirty-five students from TJ signed up to be a part of the program, so many that the five students not only get a buddy, but they’re also being paired with a group that can give them extra support. Students who weren’t selected as buddies also had the chance to have a leadership role in the club.
“It gave me goosebumps to see all of these kids that were interested,” Fiore said. “The room was filled to capacity.”
Buddies, who are paired up with a fellow student that is either in the school’s Life Skills program or receives learning support, must sign a contract and are required to contact their new friends at least once a week and meet up twice a month.
“Our big thing for this year is to find another avenue for all of our students to be involved in all of the things that are already going on here at school,” said Megan Morgan, speech-language therapist, who serves as an advisor for the program along with Life Skills teacher Emily Leininger and physical education teacher Mike Rose.
They hope the new buddies will go see the school play together or head to a TJ football game.
“It gives them someone they can say ‘Hi’ to in the halls or to talk to that they can relate to,” Rose said.
Some of the new buddies didn’t know each other before and were excited about the opportunity to have a new friend. Others already knew each other and saw this as a way to become even closer.
Senior Marcus Empey, 17, had been a part of the Best Buddies program at Upper St. Clair High School before he transferred to TJ this summer. It’s a program he says benefits all students.
“Just being there for those kids, because sometimes they don’t have the easiest life and to be able to help them through that and to give them another friend is just so satisfying,” said Empey, who serves as the club’s vice president at TJ.
Senior Mia Maksin, 17, who serves as the club president, sees this as one more way to unite the school — and it’s the perfect time, with the new building, she said.
“We’re really growing with the new school, becoming united, but I think this is just going to help us come together even more,” Maksin said.