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Best Buddies a success in BASD elementary schools

You’ve got a friend
Emily Brittain Elementary School started a Best Buddies chapter just before winter break, and the students made fleece blankets to donate to a local nonprofit. Submitted photo

Emily Brittain Elementary School recently started a chapter of Best Buddies International, which is a national organization that pairs children with learning disabilities with children without learning disabilities together to build friendships and acceptance.

Karla McEachin, the Best Buddies coordinator at Emily Brittain Elementary, said the program at the elementary level differs from that of higher grade levels. Instead of pairing two students together as “Best Buddies,” everyone gets together in one group.

“BB at the elementary level is more about acceptance and understanding of differences,” McEachin said. “It is exposing all students to differences and helping them to understand that each person can bring something to the table that is valuable.”

Butler Area School District has a Best Buddies chapter for each grade level up to the senior high school. Emily Brittain has 18 members in total in its first class of buddies, and McEachin said the group will find time within the school day to have meetings.

The first group activity the students participated in was making blankets, which required everyone to work together to secure two panels of fleece together.

“It was incredible that they just assisted each other when they had a question or needed help,” McEachin said. “It was an amazing experience to see all of the students working together to benefit someone else. I was so impressed with the effort that all of the students were putting into the activity.”

McQuistion Elementary School had a Best Buddies kickoff event in November, and has 73 members from kindergarten through fourth grade this year.

Amy Miller is the Best Buddies coordinator at McQuistion, and said its activities are meant to get the students to engage with each other to learn about the differences.

“We feel that it's important to embrace each other's differences while finding commonalities to build friendships upon,” Miller said. “We are looking to build organic friendships as we facilitate activities in which our students of all abilities participate together.”

The activities at McQuistion are similar to the ones planned at Emily Brittain, and Miller said they are focused on community impact as well. She said the children in the group will make dog treats to present to the Humane Society and to the “reading dogs” that visit the school once a month.

She said by introducing students to the program early, it could give the students a good foundation to form friendships in the future, both within and outside of Best Buddies.

“Our hope is that friendships that are sparked during these elementary years will continue to develop as they move through the upper grades with each other,” Miller said.

McEachin also said she hopes to see her elementary best buddies continue in the program at future grade levels.

“It teaches patience and humility and will hopefully create great advocates for differences at a much younger age,” she said. “My hope is that friendships will be formed through participation in the different activities and that the friendships will mature as the students progress through the different schools.”