Pupils learn important lessons with new `best buddies'

NEIGHBORS

March 10, 2002|By Christina Bittner | Christina Bittner,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

BROOKLYN PARK Middle School is the first middle school in the county to be granted a chapter of Best Buddies Maryland.

Best Buddies is a nonprofit organization that works to enhance the lives of people who are slow learners by fostering a positive environment for socialization and employment.

Each Wednesday afternoon, 15 members spend time with special-education pupils. They do homework together, play games in the gym or on the playing fields and go on outings together.

The pupils learn to accept people who are different from themselves.

Faculty sponsors Anne Thomas and Lori Chearney said that this is the program's first year at Brooklyn Park.

"We have the support of everyone in the school, from the administration down to the cafeteria staff," Thomas said. "This program is usually found in high schools and colleges."

At Brooklyn Park, the program is one of the many school clubs that pupils can join. When pupils signed up for clubs in September, more pupils joined Best Buddies than any other club in the school.

"I am most proud of that," Chearney said. "This is a tough age, and parents are always concerned about who their children hang out with. But we had such a high turnout and parental support of the club. We sent home extra permission slips and parents wanted to be involved, too. They support the concept of giving all the students a complete middle school experience."

Thomas added: "With a group, you always pray that you will get the right mix of students. You never know what it will turn out to be. We've really got a great mix of students."

Interest in the club among pupils is growing.

"Kids walk by the room and see what's going on and what all the excitement is about," Chearney said. "The members are really the ones that promote the program in the school. New members are always welcome."

Both agree that the program has been an overwhelming success.

"Kids are kids," Thomas said. "They are learning more about themselves and others, and their parents see how much their children are respected in the school."

Chearney said, "We have such an awesome group of kids in this school."

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