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Tewksbury High School Prepares To Launch 'Best Buddies' Chapter

May 28, 2015 02:14AM ● By Christine Berry MacKenzie

Actress Lauren Potter.

Sometimes the best things can take time to develop.  For a group of Tewksbury Memorial High School students and one teacher that is certainly the case.

Recently, Tewksbury High and teacher Brian Aylward announced the start of the much anticipated and long-awaited Best Buddies program. Ten years in the making, the Best Buddies Program is well on its way to being an integral part of the Tewksbury student community.

According to Aylward, a teacher at Tewksbury Memorial High School, the roots for developing a Best Buddies program in Tewksbury were developed a little over ten years ago. 

 “A student named Alice Zottoli had a brother who with a disability who had been out-placed in the LABBB Collaborative,” he explained. “She started doing research on the Best Buddies program  as part of her internship.”

Developed as a way to create one on one relationships between students with and without intellectual physical and intellectual disabilities, Best Buddies High School program offers students a unique opportunity to grow, learn and develop.  Interest and support for the program seems to grow daily and, according to Aylward, “We have a considerable student population that is easily identified as students who might benefit from being a part of Best Buddies.”

Once the decision was made to start a Best Buddies Chapter, however, it didn’t take long to discover that the program had a lengthy wait list and extensive criteria to meet before a school could be recognized in the program. Years of hard work and waiting followed but, recently, Tewksbury Memorial High School reached the top of the list. Finally, after a 10-year wait, the process towards finally becoming a part of the Best Buddies program was officially underway.

With so much groundwork already in place and so many people who have helped and supported the project along the way Tewksbury’s Best Buddies’ Chapter is already well ahead of most new groups. 

“When the representatives came out from Best Buddies,” Aylward explained, “They could not believe how much of our basic structure was already set in place.”

It never hurts to have experience in your corner and Tewksbury’s Best Buddies Chapter has been very fortunate to have Bill Brincklow in theirs. Brincklow, who works with special needs students in nearby Bedford, has offered support and advice throughout the process.  Having been involved in the Bedford High School Best Buddies Chapter which was recognized as “Best Buddies Massachusetts Chapter of the Year " for 2014.

"(Brincklow has been) a great resource for us," said Ayward.

While Tewksbury’s Best Buddies Chapter has benefitted tremendously from support from various school committee members, local politicians and school administrators, it is the students who are making the dream a reality.

Currently, the chapter has four officers who are scheduled to represent Best Buddies Tewksbury at a National Convention in July.  President Lexie Brincklow, Vice President Amanda Aylward, Treasurer Irene Houde and Secretary Julia Sessa will all travel to the convention and, without a doubt, bring a wealth of knowledge and new ideas back home with them.

“These kids have worked very hard to get our program going,” said Aylward.  “We are all very excited to see them heading to the National Convention this summer.”

With the students at the helm Best Buddies is off to a great start.

 “We’ve placed younger students in leadership roles so that they have several years to participate in the program,” Aylward explained. “They have truly taken ownership of the program and are doing great things.”

As a part of Best Buddies, the Tewksbury Chapter will benefit in several ways.  According to Aylward, “Best Buddies will provide training as well as organizational structure to our program. They help create a system of accountability and offer access to discounts for certain trips and events.”

These days events leading up to the launch of Best Buddies are rapidly gaining in popularity and, frankly, it is easy to see why. In January they hosted a Patriots Pre-Game Party that gave students a chance to enjoy everything from a cornhole tournament and Wii games to face painting and music.  As Aylward explained, “It was a really great icebreaker for everyone.”

Next  was a movie night featuring “Frozen” on the big screen in the High School's large group instruction room, a popcorn machine and even live guitar music and singing featuring a couple of students. Finally, who could forget a bowling night where students were able to enjoy each other’s company and some candlepins at the same time?

“When we have everyone together it feels good and it feels right,” Aylward remarked. “The kids all benefit from their relationships.”

While the premise of Best Buddies is forging one on one relationships it is also a chance as Aylward mentioned, “a chance to have the freedom to let it be whatever you want it to be.”

Perhaps the most amazing part of the program is the benefits that it brings to both groups of students, those with and without disabilities. 

“The fact that I can see an increase in the enthusiasm from the general population shows me just how rewarding this is for them,” said Aylward. “Many of the students with disabilities aren’t sure what their roles are. When we get the kids together they are just awesome. They have fun, they learn and they benefit a lot.”

As Aylward pointed out some of the biggest lessons, however, are those that come when non disability students are given the chance to get to know their buddies better.

 “They can learn a heck of a lot.  Whenever they think life is hard or that they have challenges they can spend time with these kids and see them focus on life with energy, enthusiasm and a smile on their face.  It’s hard to not put things into perspective then," he said.

This Friday, May 29, Tewksbury’s new Best Buddies Chapter will be welcoming a very special guest speaker.  Lauren Potter, famous for her role in the television show “Glee” will be at TMHS to speak to students about her experiences with the Best Buddies Program.  Potter, who has Down syndrome, told Us Weekly: "I had a great and wonderful time with my Best Buddy, Anthony, and the other people at the Challenge. It was really amazing, and I loved participating with the Best Buddies gang! I think that if you believe in yourself you can do anything, and Best Buddies can help you to achieve even more."

Tewksbury's Best Buddies chapter already boasts 32 students from the general population as well as 14 students with disabilities.  The numbers are growing the individual relationships are starting to develop and flourish.  Next year, as the program begins to move forward, they will begin to develop time logs which are directly accountable to The Best Buddies Program.  These will consist of one on one lunch once a week and one to two outside events a month. That doesn’t mean, however, that the fun group events are over.  They have been and will always be the core to this great program.

Of course as the number of students involved grows so must the fundraising efforts. “I certainly do not want funding to be a barrier for students who want to get involved,” Aylward explained. “I would like to be in a situation where students do not pay to participate.” So far concession stands and Redman Cell phone cases have led the fundraising efforts but, as the program grows, the emphasis will definitely be greater.

“I’m nervous and excited as we move forward,” explained Aylward. “So far everything has been great and I know we can keep it going.”

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