The most popular club at Quakertown Community High School only meets once a month for one hour, but its impact on the 180 students involved may be measured by the smiles and friendships it’s created.
The club is called Best Buddies, and it’s dedicated to ending the social, physical, and economic isolation of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. With the help of advisors Jennifer Honrado and Brittny Buonanno, Best Buddies provides club members opportunities for one-to-one friendships; leadership development for students with IDD; makes all students feel valued, and helps improve life skills.
“Our goal is to bring everyone together and have them all become friends,” said Julie Pizzi, president of Best Buddies. “Everyone is smiling, and talking about their positive experiences all the time. I love how everyone is so happy when we’re together. No one is left out. It’s not about hanging out with your friends. It’s about meeting new people and making new friends.”
Julia Reich, the club’s vice president, explained that get-togethers are “very much about inclusion. It’s important to us that students with special needs make friends in Best Buddies so they feel happy and included outside of meetings because they have new friends.”
Julie and Julia, along with student advisors Olivia Caputo, Jessica Meirinho, Carli Maha, Emma Pham, Madalynn Willing, Aubree Thrush, Stone Renshaw, Madelyn Byrnes, Anna Zheng, Maureen Healy, and Dylan Aponte plan activities to help students of all backgrounds come together.
These activities include:
Halloween Scavenger Hunt: Groups went trick-or-treating around the school.Thankful leaves for turkey and friendship bracelets: Students wrote what they were thankful for on a leaf and made bracelets out of beads. Holiday Bingo: Winners were awarded a variety of prizes.Just Dance: Everyone got on the dance floor and participated in a few just dance videos.Popcorn and a movie/Valentines for teachers: For half the meeting, students made valentine’s letters for teachers and the other half watched minions clips.St. Patty’s Scavenger Hunt: Special needs kids used calculators and regular ed kids helped them solve the problems; which led them to their next prize.Outdoor field day/games: Students will be outside this month playing all sorts of outdoor games, such as kickball, Jenga Giant and Cornhole.Best Buddies Ball: In May, students will enjoy a night of dancing and food. “Everyone is really excited about this one,” Mrs. Honrado said.
“Seeing these kids light up when they come to the meetings is the reason why people come,” Julie said. “It’s amazing.”
Said Julia, “These events give the buddies opportunities to interact with other people outside of the classroom. The buddies are constantly talking about the program, asking when the next event is. It’s great to be part of.”
Principal Mattias van’t Hoenderdaal said the relationships that have been formed in the club “are heartwarming to see. The connections are phenomenal They have provided our students a sense of belonging, a sense of community.”
Best Buddies members recently visited the Sixth Grade Center and spoke with students about the importance of inclusion and accepting differences in people. “They spread a positive message to our kids and we appreciate them visiting with us,” said Erika Studer, an English Language Development teacher at the SGC.
Mrs. Honrado said when you go through the high school cafeteria and “see buddies sitting together or walking down a hallway together, it’s all about inclusion and kindness. We have a really good group of kids.”
Gary Weckselblatt is director of communications for Quakertown Community School District.