Tag Archives: Best Buddies

Best Buddies Spread The Word — In The Very Best Way

Wednesday is a special day for special education students — and their many friends.

It’s “Spread the Word to End the Word” Day. The “word” is “retard” (or “retarded”). The aim is to draw attention to the casual use of that offensive, derogatory term — and end it.

Every year, the Staples chapter of Best Buddies makes a PSA for the day. This year, the group did something — well, special.

Wyatt Davis and Taylor Harrington.

Wyatt Davis and Taylor Harrington.

Best Buddies fosters 1-on-1 friendships between intellectually and developmentally disabled students, and their classmates. Taylor Harrington — a 4-year member — put her iMovie skills to great use.

She asked “buddy pairs” — who have been matched together based on mutual interests all year long — to help out. “I wanted viewers to see our buddies as people just like them, with their own talents and interests — not ‘that kid in a wheelchair’ or ‘in special ed classes,'” she explains. “Best Buddies focuses on our buddies’ abilities — not their disabilities.”

Everyone was excited to take part. Three students cannot speak. So their iPads were programmed so they could say their lines.

Megan Nuzzo and Alexander Baumann.

Megan Nuzzo and Alexander Baumann.

Filming was fun — filled with laughs. Alexander Baumann, a very popular senior, was “so in his element,” Taylor says.

“He was hanging out with his friends, having such a good time.” (He’s the one at the end of the video, flexing his muscles and tickling his buddy Megan Nuzzo.)

Taylor’s buddy is Wyatt Davis. She is thrilled that the video helps other people know “he’s a crazy music lover. He goes to so many concerts with his family. That’s something you wouldn’t know from looking at him.”

The finished product is great. It’s already gotten over 1000 views on Facebook. It’s been shared a lot — even by students not involved with the club.

It will be shown at Best Buddies’ fashion show, silent auction and dinner this Saturday (March 7, 6 p.m., at Staples — all are welcome!)

In the meantime — today, Wednesday, every day — “spread the word to end the word.”

Spread the video, too!

If your browser does not take you directly to YouTube, click here.

Patty McQuone: Best Buddies’ Best Buddy

Patty McQuone’s brother was born deaf. As a high school student in Wisconsin, she taught a Down Syndrome student how to use sign language.

Patty McQuone

Patty McQuone

So it was natural that 4 years ago, when Sandy Dressler stepped down as adviser to Staples’ chapter of Best Buddies — an international organization fostering 1-on-1 friendships between intellectually and developmentally disabled students, and their classmates — she’d agree to take over.

What Patty — the very popular attendance secretary and front desk face-of-the-school-to-the-public — did not expect was to become so intimately involved with the club, its IDD students, and their “buddies.”

In fact, it’s become one of the passions of her life.

“I didn’t realize then how big or good Best Buddies was,” Patty says.

Under her leadership, the Staples chapter has gotten even bigger and better.

The scene at a Best Buddies dance.  (Photo/Madeline Hardy)

The scene at a Best Buddies dance. (Photo/Madeline Hardy)

Weekly meetings feature a wide variety of teenagers hanging out, playing games and talking.

They sponsor the “Best Buddies Ball,” a high-energy, very fun dance that draws IDD students and typical education kids from nearly a dozen area towns.

Group members rake leaves at CLASP Homes in Westport. They bake holiday pies and cookies for the ABC House and Project Return. They take part in Friendship Walks (and have raised more money than any other fundraising group in the state), and present a very popular fashion show.

In addition, each IDD student has a specific “buddy.” They connect by email, text or phone at least once a week. They meet at least twice a month too, for movies, ice cream, or at each other’s homes.

“These kids are awesome!” Patty says. “It’s great to hang out with all of them.”

Pure joy at a Best Buddies ball.

Pure joy at a Best Buddies ball.

It does not take long, she notes, for typical education students to understand that the IDD teens are “just like anyone else.” Best Buddies members “really get the idea of inclusion, acceptance and friendships.”

Last month, a popular 11th grade girl invited an IDD boy to the junior prom. Both had a fantastic time, Patty says.

Her favorite part of the Staples day is right before school begins. Club members greet her with joy. “Even the non-verbal kids smile, or give me a high 5. That’s great!”

Patty steps down this month as official club adviser. But, she promises, “I’ll still be involved. I can’t give up something like this!”

“Spelling Bee” Boosts Best Buddies

At Staples High School, 2012 graduates Gregg Bonti and Sami Schwaeber had 2 passions: Players and Best Buddies.

Both are now rising sophomores at the University of Vermont. Both are studying early childhood education. And both realized, in their 1st year away from Westport, that they missed Best Buddies, and the friendships they formed in the club that helps improve the lives of people with disabilities.

This Friday and Saturday (July 12 and 13, 7:30 p.m., Toquet Hall), they’ll put on a show. All proceeds go to Best Buddies.

Gregg is directing “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” Sami serves as choreographer, and plays Schwartzand Grubenierre. The 9 actors are all current Staples Players, or alums.

The"Spelling Bee" cast.

The”Spelling Bee” cast.

Gregg chose “Spelling Bee” because, he says, “Everyone can relate to it.” The musical is about 6 youngsters in the throes of puberty. Throughout the bee, they learn it is okay to be different — and that losing does not make you a “loser.”

“This fits in nicely with Best Buddies,” Gregg says. “We’re all different, and that’s okay. Best Buddies celebrates everyone’s individuality and unique identity, while providing support in the form of friendship. That’s something the characters in ‘Spelling Bee’ are looking for.”

Funds will help Best Buddies host events and parties, as well as a statewide ball.

For a ball of your own, see “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”

(Tickets are $10. They’re available at the door 30 minutes prior to curtain, or by clicking here.)

(Click below for August Laska’s trailer — or click here if your browser does not take you directly to YouTube.)

Thanks For Caring

Staples High School principal John Dodig is a passionate, compassionate and very involved educator.

He’s also a keen observer of teenagers – and a gifted writer.

Here is his “Principal’s Message” in the most recent PTA Newsletter.  I can’t think of a better message to kick off the holiday season.

I was struggling to come up with a message that is appropriate for the November PTA Newsletter.  I knew it should be related to Thanksgiving, but I could not think of something I had not said in the past.

This morning it came to me while standing in the foyer greeting kids as they entered school.  It was right in front of my eyes all along, but I took it for granted and never shared it, so I will share it now.

Charlie Greenwald

Around 7:15 a.m. last month a senior, Charlie Greenwald, entered the building.  He is one of dozens of kids who come up to me each morning and shake my hand or engage me about homework, the weather, a game won or a performance in the auditorium.

In the middle of our brief conversation, Charlie excused himself to walk to the des of Patty McQuone, our attendance secretary, to greet Alex, one of our special needs students.

Alex gave Charlie the broadest smile I have ever seen.  He took Charlie’s hand, and the 2 of them talked to Patty for 3 minutes, all the while holding hands tightly.

I had the urge to take their picture with my iPhone and turn it into a poster, but did not.  What a warm, positive way to begin the school day for the 2 of them, for Patty, and for me. That image remained in my mind for the entire day.

The scene at a recent Best Buddies dance. (Photo/Madeline Hardy)

I learned later that day that under Mrs. McQuone’s advisorship, the Best Buddies Club has grown to become the largest club at Staples, with over 220 students. That means about 15% of the student population is in a club that exists solely to support and benefit special needs students.  They provide individual help to each of our students, and once a year they organize and host a dance for special needs students from all over the state.

Over the last 7 years I have written about problems teenagers face.  I’ve written about drinking, cheating, bullying, speeding and other issues that have always existed, and will continue to exist long after I leave Staples.

Some teenagers make poor decisions, but that is part of life.  I talk about them; we as teachers and administrators deal with those matters, but that kind of behavior is seldom the primary focus of our attention.

What we focus on is the fact that our kids are fun to be with 7 hours a day, 5 days a week.  They amaze us every day with something unexpected and positive that they say or do.

John Dodig is a "superfan" of Staples students.

I looked at a list of the over 90 clubs here, and was astonished at the number of them devoted to helping young people somewhere in the world.  Some are raising money to build a school in Guatemala, some are providing soccer balls for young kids in Iraq and Afghanistan, some are feeding the homeless, and a huge number are helping those who were born with a severe handicap and who attend Staples High School.  What a wonderful job I have!

So here is what I am most thankful for, and will share with my family at the Thanksgiving table this year. I am thankful that I am the principal of Staples High School with students who, bottom line, are caring, respectful, involved, and willing to work hard to become well-educated, responsible human beings.

I am thankful that my mother taught me that individual people are important for one reason or another. Because I took her words to heart, I take time each day to get to know your sons and daughters, and to see first hand their warm and caring nature.  Working with your children is a joy, and I am truly thankful for that.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Best Buddies Of All

Staples’ senior prom is set for Saturday.  The junior prom was held last month.

Sometimes those traditional rites of passage even live up to their hype.

But for sheer joy and celebration, nothing beats Staples’ Best Buddies Ball.

A tradition for 10 years, it’s the school’s gift to other Connecticut chapters.  Best Buddies, a national organization, promotes friendships between people with intellectual disabilities, and those without.

Nearly 200 students from 7 schools attended Saturday’s event.  Some districts provided transportation.  Ridgefield’s attendees arrived in a stretch Hummer.

The crowd was “diverse in every sense of the word,” says school social worker Sandy Dressler, Staples’ Best Buddies adviser and a ball organizer.  “The kids look forward to it all year.”

Staples paid for the DJ and decorations.  Sandy and her Best Buddies turned the cafeteria into a disco.  The PTA donated food.

Staples students can get jaded by their many proms, celebrations and active social lives.  The Best Buddies Ball shows that for some teenagers, a little glitter and music makes all the difference in the world.

Here’s some of Saturday night’s action, courtesy of Staples sophomore Madeline Hardy:

Staples High School Best Buddies

Staples High School Best Buddies

Staples High School Best Buddies

Staples High School Best Buddies