While it may be a breeze for some, for most teens high school is not easy.
There’s keeping up with academics, considering colleges or other post-graduation options, sports and other extracurriculars. And when you throw in the social aspect of high school life, things can get complicated and overwhelming real fast.
At North Creek High School in Bothell, the Best Buddies Club is there to help students with the latter.
The club, currently in its first year, is made up of about 15 members. It’s part of Best Buddies International, a nonprofit dedicated to “ending the social, physical and economic isolation of the 200 million people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD),” according to the organization’s website.
Jessie Lorenz, a special education teacher at North Creek and one of the club’s advisers, said the student-led club includes students with and without disabilities. Together, they plan, prepare and execute activities to help “gain support and spread the word about inclusion with a hope to help educate and facilitate conversations and friendships,” she said.
One of the activities Best Buddies at North Creek held this year was Inclusion Week. Taylor King, the club’s president, said this was to let people know about Best Buddies. And as this is the club’s first year at the school, a lot of the rest of their activities have focused on spreading the word about the club.
“We’re the only school in our district [with a Best Buddies Club],” King said.
In fact, Best Buddies clubs have only reached Washington in recent years, and there are fewer than a handful of them statewide.
Beth Feuer, Lorenz’s fellow club adviser and another special education teacher at the school, said work is being done to raise money so there can be a Best Buddies office in Washington.
Having an increased presence of an organization that promotes the inclusion of people of all abilities can only be a good thing.
The Best Buddies Club at North Creek focuses on inclusive activities that help members get to know each other better. Feuer said they work to create a relaxed environment for the students.
Lorenz added that they hope to help students create friendships outside of the club and that extend beyond the club.
And it can definitely happen.
Feuer was part of a Best Buddies Club when she was in high school in another state. She said she is still friends with a friend she made during that time. That was one of the reasons she wanted to start the club at North Creek.
Feuer wasn’t the only one who was familiar with Best Buddies previously.
King originally got the idea to support friendships with people with disabilities after being in one of Feuer’s classes in middle school when the latter taught at her school. King was also a peer coach for students with disabilities during that time. She said a friend who was doing peer coaching with her had moved to Denver and their school had Best Buddies and that prompted King to want to start a club at North Creek.
Little did she know that two faculty members were working on doing just that.
One of the ways the club works to create lasting connections is by pairing students for one-on-one friendships. Lorenz said that is something students can seek out and if they do, there is an interview process with the club’s student board members to make sure people are there for the right reasons.
“It’s really intentional,” she said.
There are about three or four pairs this school year and it’s Maddie Bowden’s job as buddy coordinator to check in on the pairs to see how things are going.
“I love it,” the senior said about her role in the club. “I just love this club.”
In a letter, Bowden said the club isn’t just for fun. It’s about anti-bullying and letting people know the importance of inclusion.
“In the past I’ve felt lonely and nervous at school when people have laughed at me,” she said in the letter. “The purpose of Best Buddies is to have fun, create new friendships by meeting new people, and including the entire school. I feel excited and happy to be in this club.”
And if students are not interested in a one-on-one pairing, there are also activities and events members have attended together as a group such as North Creek’s Halloween Bash in the fall.
When the word “inclusion” gets thrown around, a lot that comes to mind — at least for me — has to do with race, ethnicity and culture, or sexual orientation and identity. A person’s abilities is typically not the first thing I think of in this sense.
Best Buddies works to change that and some of their work this school year shows that. The club recently had a campaign that involved encouraging fellow students to sign a pledge to create a more inclusive environment on their school campus. They are also working to end the use of the “R-word” and are educating people on being respectful and using people-first language.
I wasn’t sure what the latter meant, but King explained it means putting a person first instead of what makes them different.
For example, saying “the person is autistic,” instead of “the autistic person.”
It may seem minor, but it’s a way to show that a person’s abilities or disabilities do not define them.
Windows and Mirrors is a bimonthly column focused on telling the stories of people whose voices are not often heard. If you have something you want to say, contact editor Samantha Pak at spak@ soundpublishing.com.
Update: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Beth Feuer’s name.