Middle school can be one of those awkward times in a students’ life. Finding ways to help a student move from child to adult can be a challenge. Oskaloosa Middle School has taken on a program to assist some of those students make that transition.
The Best Buddies Program helps students form meaningful friendships with their peers, secure successful jobs, live independently, improve public speaking, self-advocacy and communications skills, and feel valued by society.
The Best Buddies Program accomplishes this by matching students with disabilities with their peers for the purpose of creating long-lasting friendships. This is the first year for the Best Buddies Program at Oskaloosa Middle School. Dana Hols, At-Risk Coordinator, and Teena Andrews, special education teacher, co-direct the program with the help of student Chapter President Jaden Moore and Co-Chapter President Nathan Andrews.
The plan was to start with a small group and to use students that currently serve as peer helpers in the Peer PE program. This year the Oskaloosa Middle School program has 17 members, which includes eight Buddy matches.
To launch the program students had a pizza party in which they were given a cup with the name of their buddy match. Students have enjoyed time with their buddies at school.
On Feb. 11 the Best Buddies participated in a field trip to the Des Moines Performing Arts Center (Civic Center), then visited the Iowa Historical Museum. This trip was part of the Oskaloosa Middle School’s sixth grade trip.
The Best Buddies matched up and sat with their buddy at the presentation by the Jessica Lange Dance Company. Making the short trip toward Capitol Hill, the students ate lunch at the museum before embarking with their buddies and adult leaders on a tour of the museum.
Teena Andrews sees the program as a way for students make a difference in other students’ lives.
“As I reflected on this past year working with the Best Buddies I had a hard time putting my feelings into words,” said Andrews. “The laughter, smiles, friendship, and fun all the students had this year was amazing. They have learned that we all are different and we celebrate those differences. Our hope as these students move on in life is that their experiences with Best Buddies help them with all aspects of their lives.”
The Best Buddies have had two other outings in which they were treated to a show through the Des Moines Arts Council and the Performing Arts Center. The trips provided the students an opportunity to explore different art forms and encourage each other.
As with any educational endeavor the initiative comes at a cost.
“We have had a very successful first year,” said Hols. “Our future challenges will be financial sustainability to pay for our friendship activities. We would ideally like to find sponsors to help us with funding these friendship building activities that provide socialization opportunities for our students.”
Oskaloosa Middle School and Oskaloosa schools in general have taken on several new programs and initiatives in the past few years to assist and encourage all students to be all that they can be. The program has received support from administration as one of the positive based behavior models.
“To me, the Best Buddies program was one of the highlighted programs of our school year,” said middle school assistant principal Mark Scholes. “Students in the program were exposed to many adventures and experiences that helped them grow socially throughout the year. I am very happy with the confidence that has developed in our students, because of the program and look forward to continued progress with it in the ensuing years.”
The students closed out the year with a short trip to Mahaska YMCA for a few hours of swimming with the Peer PE students. Best Buddies co-president may have summed it up best about the program.
“It’s been fun,” said chapter co-president Nathan Andrews.
Story provided by RD Keep