At Desert Foothills Junior High, everyone has a friend thanks to the Best Buddies program. The goal of Best Buddies is to end the social, physical and economic isolation of the 200 million people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). The non-profit organization promotes inclusion through the community, jobs and pairing one-on-one friendships. Desert Foothills is one of only three middle schools in Arizona with an active Best Buddy program.
“The average IDD student interacts with less than 30 people at school, including teachers,” said Carly Acosta, Desert Foothills special education teacher and Best Buddy program leader. “The actual number of fellow students they interact with is very small.”
The Best Buddies program at Desert Foothills works to build friendships between the IDD students and the typical population through a variety of social events both during and outside of school. Students participate in on-campus events like meetings and parties, as well as state-wide events such as a prom with over 1,200 students, an annual charity friendship walk, and community outreach to spread the awareness of inclusion.
“It’s all about inclusion,” Acosta said. “My aspiration is for students and their families to feel like they’re a part of the school and part of the community because they are so often left out. For the students, I hope to create meaningful and lasting relationships with their peers.”
“As we begin the reconfiguration of special service delivery models on our campuses, students with disabilities will be accessing their instruction in general education classrooms at an increased rate and the ability for their general education peers to support and interact with them will be invaluable,” said Lori Mora with WESD Special Services. “The Best Buddies program is laying very important foundational work in creating a culture in which all students are embraced and educated together.”
More than 60 students currently participate in Desert Foothills’ Best Buddy program. Being a buddy to a fellow student is easy. Students participate in an interview, get matched with a buddy, attend events, and have fun. Leadership positions are also available to those desiring a more prominent role in the program.
“I hope that there will be a chain reaction between the awareness of inclusion and the relationships students are building so that other schools will hear about this and want to take it their school,” Acosta said. “Anyone who wants to spread kindness and inclusion can get involved, you will learn far more from the kids than they can learn from you.”
The Desert Foothills Best Buddies program is forming a partnership with Greenway High School, since they also have a program on their campus.
“We are very excited that as our students transition to the high school, they will already be a part of the Best Buddies organization and will already know high school peers when they arrive on campus,” Mora added.
For more information on AZ Best Buddies, visit: http://clubs.arizona.edu/~bbuddies/About%20Best%20Buddies.html