School Beat — February 18, 2010

NRMS pilots Ram Buddies program

by LARRY WATTERS, Assistant Principal
North Rockford Middle School

In the words of Albus Dumbledore from the Harry Potter series, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we really are, far more than our abilities.”

One of the choices we have made this year at Rockford Public Schools that I am extremely proud of is the Ram Buddies program being piloted by North Rockford Middle School (NRMS) and Lakes Elementary School. This program, initiated by parents active in the lives of their special needs children, is an opportunity for students without disabilities to develop relationships with students with special needs. This service learning activity helps to provide support, friendship and encouragement while reinforcing our goal of academic and social success through the cooperative efforts of staff, parents and peers.

The Ram Buddies application process required interested students to obtain parent permission and teachers’ recommendations prior to being selected for the program. Once selected, students received training from counseling and special education staff. The training consisted of the basics of friendship, leadership and disability awareness. When the training was completed, Ram Buddies were matched and made commitments to spend time together during the marking period. These commitments could be as simple as meeting at a locker, eating lunch together, visiting during intervention time, or possibly attending a sporting or after-school event together.

Currently at NRMS, 12 special needs children are “buddied” with 32 general education students. In most cases it is indistinguishable as to who is providing the service and who is receiving. As we assess the value of the program in the future, I am confident the benefits gained by the special needs students will be abundant, but the growth of everyone involved will be unmistakable.

It is our choices in life that help define us, and Ram Buddies is another reason Rockford Public Schools can be described as a student-centered district providing opportunities to learn and develop in a social world.

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