Creating friendships, sharing experiences, and gaining a better appreciation for classmates are all part of the Blue Streak Buddy program at Lake Middle and High School.
Bringing together students with multiple handicaps (MH) and mainstream students at the two schools, the Buddies program allows interaction and relationships between these students to occur. Together students participate in activities like an in-school Christmas party, attending a Rubber Ducks game, or working together on an MH classroom assignment.
“For the most part, our MH students are in separate classes from many of their peers - this does not give them a ‘real’ high school experience. Not only do our students miss out on meeting a majority of their peers, but also those typical peers miss out on discovering the wonderful people our students are. This experience has opened their eyes,” said Janet Mackall, Lake High School MH teacher for grades 9-12.
Lake staff member Joe Anderson helped plant the seed for the Buddies program last year, after being involved with a similar program in another school district. Since then it has evolved into a collaborative effort involving Mrs. Mackall and Kathie Nish at the high school, Katrina Gaughan at Lake Middle School, and Beth Okolish and Jodi Varner, who provide additional job training and support to MH students after graduation.
Gary Kandel, Director of Special Services, and Lake High School Principal Dan Harold and Associate Principal Lee Munoz also provide vital support to the Buddies program.
“This program has no requirements of ability in any specific area - just a willingness to be kind and have fun! Every person has a desire to "belong," and this program provides that for all students regardless of ability level,” continued Mrs. Mackall.
Senior Chloe Fuller is one Blue Streak Buddy who says she now plans to major in Special Education Intervention as a career as a result of being a Buddy for the past two years. Last year she invited the entire high school MH class to the Homecoming Dance with her; seven students were able to attend. “It was neat to see how each reacted to the music,” she shared with a smile.
Chloe added that last year she visited with MH students at the middle school every day, and read books, played games, attended a Thanksgiving feast, and accompanied them to the annual Exceptional Olympics event. This year she has spent time with high school students, helping them learn life skills including cooking and riding a bus.
Senior Lexi Bailey also became involved with the Buddies program last year at the middle school, and has continued it again this year, spending time with high school students. “The kids are awesome. I feel blessed. They are some of the best people I have ever met. They have given me experiences that I never thought I’d get in high school,” said Lexi.
Sophomore Janson Smith organized a meet-and-greet event earlier this year that allowed MH and mainstream students to meet each other, play games, do team building, and bond together. “So many people were there - it was a unique experience to see the kids come together and collaborate. Now I stop in and see them when I can – at Christmas I made reindeer food, ate tacos, and watched a movie with them.”
Mrs. Mackall said approximately 60 mainstream Lake students are currently involved with the Buddies program.
“The Buddies program is all about inclusion and relationships. The best thing about it is that all of the students involved are positively impacted by one another. Seeing genuine relationships that the program has fostered is another example of why Lake is such a great place,” said Kandel.
Lillian Mast, eighth grader, gets a hug from Lake High School Principal Dan Harold.