Imagine students in school who feel they don’t have any friends. The feeling of isolation grows as you eat lunch by yourself — the taunts of bullies just add to the struggle. This is a problem special needs students face on a regular basis.
What if there was a way to help students not feel marginalized? Fortunately, there are two programs currently in place in the Santa Clara Unified School District (SCUSD) — Circle of Friends and Best Buddies.
Both programs are non-profit organizations with similar goals in mind — to promote inclusion and end the isolation of those with special needs by promoting friendships with the general education population.
“Circle of Friends was introduced to the district four to five years ago,” said SCUSD Superintendent Dr. Stan Rose. “I worked with it in another school district when I was Superintendent there.
“Everywhere, I’ve seen the program grow,” continued Dr. Rose. “I see the same kind of things — a growing appreciation for students with special needs and those that become their friends. The general education students said they learned more from their friendship with the special needs students than they ever gave and they learned to appreciate what they had in life much more.”
Currently, Circle of Friends is in three schools in the SCUSD — Peterson and Cabrillo Middle Schools and Laurelwood Elementary School. There are plans to expand the program to Braly, Montague and Haman Elementary Schools and Santa Clara High School next year.
Best Buddies is primarily at Wilcox High School and is known at Peterson as Peterson Pirates/Best Buddies. Like Circle of Friends, it promotes inclusion in school and helps reduce bullying as the buddies stand up to bullies.
During the Special Olympics Basketball game held at Wilcox in March, several students in Best Buddies not only hung out with their buddies, but also wore shirts adorned with Best Buddies logos.
Both Best Buddies and Circle of Friends promote inclusion and friendship, which, in turn, only enhances their experience in school. When the programs expand to additional schools, more special needs students will be able to receive the benefits of having their own buddies.
For more information about the Circle of Friends, visit their website www.circleofriends.org. For more information about Best Buddies, visit their website www.bestbuddies.org.