LAKE TWP.  The Blue Streak Buddy program is in its second year and has expanded from 15 students in the pilot year to 46 typical peers signed up this year. The focus of the program is to bring together multiple handicap (MH) students with mainstream students at Lake Middle School and Lake High School.

The goals of the program include creating friendships, sharing experiences and gaining a better appreciation for classmates. The program allows interaction and relationships between students. Together, students participate in activities like an in-school Christmas party, attending a RubberDucks game or working together on an MH classroom assignment.

Director of Special Services Gary Kandel said Lake staff member Joe Anderson helped plant the seed for the Buddies program last year after being involved with a similar program in another school district. Since then, it has evolved into a collaborative effort involving Janet Mackall and Kathie Nish at the high school; Katrina Gaughan at Lake Middle School; and Beth Okolish and Jodi Varner, who provide additional job training and support to MH students after graduation. Lake High School Principal Dan Harold and Associate Principal Lee Munoz also provide vital support to the buddy program.

"Lake students have always supported our MH students across the district, the buddy program has helped funnel that into building lasting relationships with the students," Kandel said. "The program functions well and our future plans include expanding it across the district. It’s been so successful that we’ve started discussions about offering the program in the elementary schools."

Mackall is a 9-12 grade intervention specialist working with students in the multiple disabilities program. She wrote in an email interview that, "This program has no requirements of ability in any specific area - just a willingness to be kind and have fun.

"The program is essentially a social group designed to increase interaction between students in the general education curriculum and those students with special needs that require more academic supports - thus placing them in separate academic classes. We currently have 46 typical peers signed up as buddies for our program. We do not limit the number of members we have, nor do we have any specific requirements for joining," she continued.

The district hopes that students will keep their hearts and minds open to developing friendships with peers they may otherwise not have a chance to meet. Mackall wrote that the district’s philosophy remains that every person deserves to have a place - in this instance, a club to belong to. 

Both Kandel and Mackall said feedback has been positive all around. Mackall wrote that, "there are amazing advocates for both our program and our students in the high school’s leadership."

"Mrs. Munoz and Mr. Harold have been open and encouraging to all of our ideas as we have navigated the beginnings of our program. Mr. Kandel arranged funding for all of our Buddies to have t-shirts that were designed by one of our student organizers of the program (Janson Smith).

"I believe that students are beginning to understand that they have more things in common with our students than the originally knew.  I have seen such a difference in the interaction between our students and their typical peers. They no longer walk the halls in anonymity- they are recognized with a shout out, high five, fist bump or hug.  They are a PART of the high school hallway banter rather than bystanders. They are included, valued and loved," she added.