Inside Stories

Best Buddies Earn Rookie of the Year Honors

Parker Middle School’s Best Buddies chapter took a field trip to Sully’s Ice Cream Stand in Chelmsford on June 6.

by Jen Oemig

CHELMSFORD – Parker Middle School’s Best Buddies club has been recognized as the 2024 Rookie of the Year Chapter for the states of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

The club was started by Special Education Teacher Alexandra Hansbury and Speech Pathologist Kristiana Kurth as a means to help foster peer relationships.

“We saw a need for our students to form friendships, and we needed to create opportunities,” Ms. Kurth said. “In what we already had in place, we didn’t see any opportunities for the students who we service together to form those relationships.”

Ms. Hansbury said the process to start the club began back in the fall by reaching out to Best Buddies in Massachusetts & Rhode Island.

“They set you up with your own Best Buddies coordinator,” she explained. “Then they do a lot of onboarding with you. They go over all of their rules and expectations. They come and do training. … We started getting everything in motion, and we were finally able to roll it out for the second half of the year.”

When they were ready to launch the program, Ms. Hansbury and Ms. Kurth hosted an information session with the help of Chelmsford High’s assistant football coach Chris Harrington, who shared his experiences with Best Buddies and how the organization has impacted his life.

“We were able to finally set up our first event in March,” Ms. Hansbury said. “So, we’ve had monthly events since March.”

Those events have included on-site activities at Parker, participating in the Best Buddies Walk in Worcester in May and, most recently, a field trip to Sully’s Ice Cream Stand.

The Parker chapter of Best Buddies has about 40 members, and Ms. Hansbury and Ms. Kurth are pleased with how things have been going so far.

“Best Buddies is more of a commitment than an after-school club you can drop in and out of, which was a learning curve for a lot of the kids,” said Ms. Hansbury. “We didn’t do one-to-one matches for this year. We just wanted the kids to show up, meet new friends and interact with each other.”

Regardless, Ms. Hansbury said several students have already bonded with the Buddies and identified “their person.”

“We’re seeing friendships being built and that’s amazing,” Ms. Kurth said. “And also, our students being more accepted and included. And that was our goal when we started.”

With plans to incorporate one-to-one matches next school year, as well as establish a student advisory committee, the hope is that Parker’s Best Buddies program will continue to thrive.

Rookie recognition

On June 6, Ms. Hansbury was notified by Best Buddies that the Parker chapter had earned Rookie of the Year honors, which came as a pleasant surprise.

“Our coordinator nominated our group, and then we were asked to fill out a Google survey and explain why, of everything we’ve done this year, what would make us eligible,” Ms. Hansbury explained. “And then we just found out when they sent out the newsletter that we won Rookie of the Year for Massachusetts and Rhode Island. So, out of any new chapters that started this year at the middle school level, Parker won.”

During the Best Buddies Leadership Conference in July, all of the chapters that earned Rookie of the Year honors will be re-presented and one will be selected as the Rookie of the Year for the entire nation.

Whether or not the club earns that honor, Ms. Kurth and Ms. Hansbury said they feel like they’ve already won when they see how Best Buddies has already made a positive impact on their students.

“To see this idea that’s been brewing for so long and to see that need I’ve seen for so long be answered, it’s amazing,” Ms. Kurth said.

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