CHILLICOTHE — A Chillicothe High School sophomore was given the green light this week to launch a program designed to foster understanding and friendships between high school students and those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Jayla Brown went before the Chillicothe Board of Education Monday to pitch her plan to start a Best Buddies chapter at the high school. Best Buddies is an international organization formed to provide chances for friendship, employment and leadership development, breaking down some of the barriers that can lead to social isolation.
Brown knows a little something about some of the challenges facing members of the developmentally disabled community. Her mother, Leia Snyder, is superintendent of the Ross County Board of Developmental Disabilities. Despite the familial connection, the idea for the Best Buddies chapter was all Brown’s.
“As a son of a former principal of the Pioneer Center, sometimes you’re ‘voluntold’ to do things, but I believe what my father instilled in me and the opportunities I had to work with developmentally disabled students was an opportunity that led me to where I am today,” said Chillicothe High School Principal Jeff Fisher. “What (Brown) is doing and the Best Buddies program she is presenting is not anything her mother has told her to do. This isn’t anything she has been directed to do. This comes from her heart and this comes from her passion, and my hope is that a program like this leads a wonderful girl like her into a career in education someday.”
The program essentially matches a student with an intellectual or developmental disability, known as a buddy, with a high school student known as a peer buddy. The matched pair commit to staying in touch at least once a week through phone calls, emails, social media or touching base at school, and they also commit to attending Best Buddies meetings and activities and to spending time together twice each month on their own.
“CHS would benefit from Best Buddies because Best Buddies brings opportunities for friendships that mean the world to everyone involved and it would show our school is more respectful and welcoming for all students,” Brown said. “It would also teach students about how there are more similarities to students with disabilities than differences.”
During the initial startup, those involved in creating the program will be actively seeking out participants through handouts, speaking during lunch periods and making brief presentations in classrooms and before athletic practices. As interested students fill out surveys to determine their interests, the formation of matches will begin, and they won’t be random.
“She’s specifically looking for students who have the interests that those (developmentally disabled) students have located as their interests,” Fisher said. “So if a student loves basketball, we’re going to look for a basketball player to buddy with that individual so that individual can go to a basketball game and feel a part of the school. It’s not just some random kid we’re looking for, it’s what are these students’ interests who have these developmental disabilities and then connecting them with students who have those same passions.