Though a vote was not set to take place until the School Committee’s Oct. 27 meeting, the members voted to suspend the rules to expediate the process.
Best Buddies is an international nonprofit organization that pairs students with intellectual and developmental disabilities with peers to volunteer, complete projects and, ultimately, form friendships, Special Education Director April Rist said. The staff at the high school had previously tried to get a chapter of Best Buddies in Agawam, but the organization was unable to sustain it.
Rist said a teacher approached her about trying again, and “lo and behold” the Best Buddies organization was able to take on an Agawam chapter.
Each chapter must have two advisors, one special education teacher and one general education teacher. Though the school has the special education teacher in place, Rist, Principal Steve Lemanski and student Lydia Koury presented to the School Committee to get approval for the additional advisor.
While Agawam High School waited until Best Buddies could support their chapter, Rist said “Let’s do something anyway.” The Budding Friendships Club was formed in its place.
Koury said the group meets every other week to celebrate holidays, craft, raise funds and work on group projects.
Though Budding Friendships has provided students with a chance to bond with their peer partners, Rist said having the support of an international organization has helped draw interest from about 50 students this year.
“We’re excited. Having a club with a national organization behind this gets people excited,” Rist said. “It really works on connecting those kids with their peer partners for the long term.”
School Committee member Diane Juzba said she was “beyond thrilled” to finally be able to bring Best Buddies to Agawam High School.
Lemanski said the school culture that has been built is one of inclusion.
“Our student body is very willing and able to help others,” Lemanski said. “I think that by adding the Best Buddies program to our school, all students will benefit tremendously.”