When I began my tenure as assistant principal at Mahomet-Seymour Junior High School, I was introduced to the Bulldog Buddies program. The program was developed by a young special education teacher by the name of Marissa Hill. She was the lead educator in Room One33, which served special education students with low incidence (or moderate to severe) disabilities. Mrs. Hill proposed the idea to the principal at that time expressing a concern for providing increased interaction for students with their general education peers. What began as a dream approximately twelve years ago has become a reality that has proven beneficial for students and staff at our junior high school.
According to Mrs. Hill, “I feel that my philosophy on buddy programs is what led to its’ success. I do not believe in “pairing up” children to their peers with special needs. The magic happens by simply providing a safe and respectful environment for the students to naturally connect through age-appropriate, teacher-fostered activities. Cooking is always a winning activity as the kids are doing something creative and fun together. In addition, there is a delicious end product that they can share. Just as we all make friends by connecting over shared interests, this allows the students to find the commonalities on their own as opposed to forcing friendships based on a teacher-driven survey or random pairing.”
The Bulldog Buddies program is open to 7th and 8th grade general education students. Interested students complete an application and take part in an interview with the Room One33 staff. This process takes place at the end of a student’s sixth grade year. Students accepted as Bulldog Buddies spend time with special education students in the following settings:
- during fitness classes
- during essentials classes (such as art or technology) in Room One33 – general education students forgo 1/3 of the essential rotation
- during advisory period
- after school activities.
In reflecting on the success of the program, Mrs. Hill states that the impact is far greater than she ever imagined. The initial intent of the program was to increase the social experience for the students with special needs in the school environment through reverse inclusion. However, over the years, it has become resoundingly obvious that the influence of the program spreads much further. The Bulldog Buddies receive just as much benefit from the program as their peers with special needs, as these students learn about empathy, cultural misperceptions of disability, self-identity and creating lasting friendships. Likewise, the program has had a positive bearing on the school culture as a whole because the expectation at MSJH is that all students are accepted in all educational environments.
– Heather Landrus, Principal
Mahomet-Seymour Junior High