REGINA — There are 450 schools in Canada that have a Best Buddies program, and Regina’s Dr. Martin Leboldus Catholic High School is among the 20 best in the country.
“We have expectations of performance,” said Canadian Best Buddies executive director Steven Pinnock in a telephone interview from Toronto, “and Leboldus consistently exceeds those expectations.”
The Leboldus program has been going for about 10 years, said Pinnock. “The whole school gets involved; it’s an important part of their everyday life,” Pinnock gave as the main reason for the school’s selection among the top 20.
Leanne Barnes is head of the program at Leboldus. Her University of Regina teaching degree has a minor in special education. She received her degree six years ago, was employed by the Regina Catholic School Division and placed at Leboldus to teach in the Functionally Integrated Alternative Education Program (FIAEP) for students with intellectual disabilities, and head up the Best Buddies program.
Best Buddies matches students with intellectual challenges with mainstream students who become friends and spend time with each other. “We expect those friendships to develop and carry on beyond high school,” said Barnes. “We expect participants to attend at least one function a month outside school time with their buddies, in whatever interests them. We also plan one or two group outings a month. We’ve done laser tag, cookie decorating, an Easter egg hunt, that sort of thing. It’s pretty much a social group.”
There are 13 students in the FIAEP program and they are called Buddies, whereas their mainstream partners are called Peer Buddies.
The Peer Buddies are selected from volunteers recruited at the beginning of the school year and matched with Buddies with similar interests. “We had 20 volunteers for the program this year but could only accept 13.”
Barnes think’s it’s the commitment of the students at Leboldus that has been recognized nationally. “They are well educated and familiar with students with intellectual disabilities and are willing to go the distance and actually become friends, not just hang out and do it out of Christian service, but do it out of the goodness of their hearts; they really want to do friendships with the students in my class. And year after year we had really committed students who have helped our school to be more inclusive.”
Best Buddies began in 1989 at Georgetown University, a Jesuit school in Washington D.C., and has since spread to 450 chapters in 50 countries.
There are 10 chapters in Saskatchewan, including chapters at the Universities of Regina and Saskatchewan.
Swift Current Comprehensive High school, just two years into the program, was also recognized as one of the 20 best programs in Canada.