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The buddy system

Similarities outnumber differences for CES students

Posted: January 25, 2011 4:05 p.m.
Updated: January 26, 2011 5:00 a.m.
Ashley Lewis Ford/C-I

Camden Elementary School students Myeisha Stuckey, Diamond Black and Desani Canty paint snowflakes together in Renee Thompson’s classroom. Each year, students from Thompson’s self-contained special needs class pair up with a group of fourth-graders in Jennifer Ellis’ class.

Friday afternoon, four students in Renee Thompson’s class were treated as celebrities.

A class of fourth-graders crowded around the popular students in the Camden Elementary School classroom, vying for their attention while always making sure that each of the four students was enjoying himself or herself.

They spent an hour playing and reading with the four children -- all of whom were in Thompson’s self-contained special needs class.

“That’s what is so great about the buddy program,” Thompson said. “It teaches children that you can’t judge other children from what you see. Everybody is more like each other than different from them.”

Every school year, Thompson said she and fourth-grade teacher Jennifer Ellis come together to create a buddy program, in hopes that students in the two classes will become friends.

“We wanted our children to make friends outside of this classroom,” Thompson said. “Those children, none of them stare at us. They have a very positive attitude. All children (at Camden Elementary School) accept them so well.”

And to help develop that friendship, Thompson said the two classes hold special activity days once a month.

In spring, the classes will walk to a bowling alley and play together.

Another day, Thompson said, they may just go out and play on the playground.

On another occasion, the fourth-grade students walked with the special needs students to a grocery store. The special needs students have been invited to participate in the school’s play next month.

And then there are just days, such as Friday, when the students participate in activities together in Thompson’s classroom.  

“It’s just like how we want friends, they want friends. And in a way, this gives them an opportunity to visit (my students’) world. When they used the SMART Board, they used the same things that my kids used,” Thompson said. “And when they painted, they used some of the instruments that my kids use.”

 “And they don’t act like they’re afraid of them. A lot of people will back away when they see our children,” added teaching assistant Lillie Boykin. “But not these kids.”

Thompson said she can tell throughout the year that the experience has been beneficial for both the fourth-graders and special needs students.

And while the fourth-grade students may have asked a lot of questions when they first met the special needs students, Thompson said the students have since become fast friends.

“They’re making a lot of friends,” she said, smiling and glancing back at her students. “And what’s so great about this program is that it’s not just good for my children -- it’s good for the other children as well.”


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