The Power of a Peer Buddy
In Honor of National Down Syndrome Day
Submitted by Guest Blogger
Every day my son, Halen, comes home from first grade with a sweet story about his friend, Leeza. “Leeza gave me a high five today! She just laughs and jokes with me all day!”
Leeza’s helper, Mrs. Laurie, says that it was last year when Halen was in Kindergarten that he took Leeza under his wing. At recess neither of them had friends to play with so they gravitated toward one another. Halen figured out what color ball Leeza could see and would make sure to have it available for her every day at lunch.
A year later, the two are still friends and are now in the same class together. Halen is Leeza’s peer buddy. It’s a volunteer position that students at Salish Coast Elementary in Port Townsend are given the opportunity to do, but few do. Halen says, “She’s my friend. No one had to make me be her buddy. I care about her and like helping her throughout the day.” Halen doesn’t see how unique he is, but I do.
I chaperoned a field trip earlier this year and saw how exclusive the rest of the class was and how hurtful it was to watch students push Leeza out of games and ignore her when she was trying to communicate with them. Leeza communicates using sign language. When I started taking ASL last year, Halen would ask me to teach him simple words and sentences so he could communicate with Leeza. Now he comes home and teaches me new words!
When I asked Principal Condran to contact Leeza’s mom for permission to write this article, I was touched by her response. Leeza’s mom, Sharon McCracken, can’t say enough positives about the peer buddy program. Her eldest daughter, Gillian is 15 and a freshmen at Port Townsend High School. Gillian also has Down Syndrome. For the past few years, Gillian has exclusively eaten lunch alone. “It breaks my heart,” says Sharon. “We don’t have a program in our school district to assist kids socially who are not able to make connections on their own. In larger communities, Gillian would’ve participated in peer grouping programs where volunteer kids could sit with a child with special needs at lunch and these peers are provided instruction on how to try and engage with the child. This year, in 9th grade, Gillian sits with a group of kids, but no conversation whatsoever. She’s managed to get through her entire childhood being socially invisible. So to this mama and her sweet boy … peer grouping is wonderful beyond words.”
I shared Sharon’s words with my son and couldn’t hold back the tears. “Why are you crying, mama?” said Halen. “Honey, I’m so proud of you.” “Why? Leeza’s just my friend. I don’t help her because I have to, I help her because she’s my friend.”
On National Down Syndrome Day, I share this poignant story of two kids who have formed a friendship beyond the social barriers. Please encourage your children to do the same. Don’t allow another child to spend their childhood being socially invisible. Teach and model inclusivity.
Submitted by Guest Blogger