Changing lives

‘Buddies’ helping Life Skills class with social skills

Photo submitted to Times Observer Buddies work on a team-building exercise at the Building Buddies Kick Off event at Warren Area Elementary Center.

Life Skills Teacher Megan Leach doesn’t think she’s changing lives with the Building Buddies program.

But she’s “certain” that the students in the program “are changing each other’s lives.”

During the Warren County School Board’s curriculum, instruction, and technology committee meeting this week, Leach talked about the program and the strides her class is making with it. “It was something that really touched my heart and something I wanted to share,” she said.

Building Buddies is intended to bring same-age peers together for social benefit.

“The special education department this year is assessing our Life Skills program,” Director of Pupil Services Dr. Patricia Hawley said. “We’re going to be implementing programmatic changes to ensure continuity so students with disabilities are afforded additional opportunities to engage with non-disabled peers in the regular education setting.”

Students in the program spend a recess period and a lunch period each week with the Life Skills class. “While there, the expectation is that they are making an effort to get to know their buddy and develop a relationship with them,” Leach said. “They play with their buddy at recess and eat with them and chat and socialize during that time.”

When Leach brought the Buddies program to Warren Area Elementary Center, she hoped to be able to find two students willing to be buddies.

“Originally my hope was that I could get one third- and one fourth-grader to buddy,” she said. “I talked a little about it at our class meetings. I was blown away by the number of students that were interested.”

“I quickly realized that I had nothing to worry about,” she said. Actually, she had a different problem. “I had to use an application process to narrow down who really wanted to be a part of this.”

She was impressed by students’ responses to why they wanted to be Buddies.

One student said it would help them understand a brother with autism.

“It will make my heart feel good,” another said.

“I was able to identify 50” suitable Buddies, Leach said.

That was more than enough for the Life Skills class. “We were also able to buddy up some of the students in our emotional support program,” she said.

The buddies have to agree to some rules.

“They had to sign a buddy behavior pledge — that their behavior would be exemplary,” Leach said. There are also “things to be kept private.”

Many of the Buddies have been going above and beyond the required one recess and one lunch period per week. “Not only are they coming on their Buddy days, they are coming to my classroom every day,” Leach said. “The Buddies are also joining us for special things that take place like the Halloween parade, and when the Life Skills classes have readers in to read and talk about their chosen profession so the students can explore many different professions during the school year.”

“A parent told me that she thought that I was changing lives with this program,” she said. “I don’t think that I am… but I am certain that they are changing each other’s lives.”

Leach said she is expanding the program into the kindergarten through second-grade classes. Hawley added the district will look into taking some aspects of the Buddies model and expanding it to reach through 12th grade.

Leach brought some of the participants in the program to Monday’s committee meeting.

Superintendent Amy Stewart asked what they liked most about being in the program.

“Hanging out with my buddy,” Hayden Schuler said.

“My favorite part is spending time with kids that normally don’t have a lot of time to spend with other kids,” Paisley Lawson said.