A friendly “hello” in the hallway between students of all abilities is among the most rewarding moments of Sage Broomfield’s time at school.
What seems like a trivial piece of high school life is the golden outcome of a program the Grade 11 student started at Claremont secondary.
“She’s had such an impact on the student body as a whole,” says principal Bruce Frith. “She’s articulate, she is involved in a lot of different things … she started an initiative in our building called Best Buddies.”
That’s where the “hellos” come in.
“Best Buddies is an international organization dedicated to creating lasting friendships between students with intellectual diverseabilities and their peers,” Broomfield says, stretching the information out in one breath. The 16-year-old is clearly used to describing the program she founded two years ago at Claremont. “It was my Grade 9 year and I hadn’t really met anyone yet.”
Best Buddies piqued her interest after hearing that teacher Randy Stetson was looking for a student to start up a Claremont-based chapter of the program. Broomfield took charge, and started holding meetings and spread the word about the program, where learning disabled youth meet at lunchtime with a mainstream peer.
“As soon as Sage saw the opportunity, she stepped forward, and using her outstanding people skills, quickly recruited a wonderful group of caring students to start the chapter,” says Stetson, an integration support teacher at Claremont. “We were able to match five special needs students with peer buddies in that first year and established a caring community in the school with 12 peer buddies. … For some of our students, these were their first neurotypical friends since elementary school.”
That is the reward, the teen says. It’s “amazing” when a special needs student feels comfortable starting a conversation with a group in the hallway, or waving hello.
“It helps form connections. I think that’s the most lasting thing, especially for the kid with diverseabilities; they sometimes find it difficult to make and sustain friendships in the classroom,” she says. “Making friends … is really difficult for a lot of them and it negatively impacts their school experience because friendship is such an important part of high school.”
The rest of the student population also benefits from the relationships, learning to be more accepting and seeking out understanding in others.
“There’s this common misconception that every student with difficulties is either really happy or really difficult. … In this club we learn (each other’s) personalities and become friends,” Broomfield explains.
“Sage has an incredible ability to bring people together,” says Stephanie Riedstra, a special needs support teacher. “She is so warm and genuine that she connects with everyone. … In the halls, in the classrooms and in the community, Sage’s presence makes it possible for everyone to feel good about being together.”
While her passion lies in Best Buddies, the teen also has a hand in student government, Key Club (a service club at the school), and Free the Children, alongside excelling in her academics.
“I dabble,” she says modestly.
She’s also registered in the Pursuit of Excellence program, designed to better develop students both academically and socially. Students select a focus of study to identify areas of potential post-secondary options. The students also participate in the Duke of Edinburgh Awards program that has four required components: service, adventurous journey, skill development and physical recreation. She’s also actively involved in the arts and plays on the school rugby team.
“I have struggled in the past (with time management). … I’ve found a balance of what works for me,” she says. “It got (to be) too much. I wasn’t able to put all my efforts into one or two clubs and my schoolwork. This year I’ve found a really good balance.”
While Broomfield learned to carve out a schedule that accommodated each of her passions, she feels the extras add pressure – but in a positive way; they build expectations that help her grow while providing leadership opportunities, she says.
“It helps that I really just genuinely enjoy it. I love seeing something and putting myself into it,” Broomfield says. “It’s just another connection to the school and my peers. I like connections.”
– with files from Devon MacKenzie
Did you know?
In February, Broomfield was named Outstanding Youth Volunteer at the annual Hearts of the Community Awards, presented by Beacon Community Services and the Peninsula News Review.
Other stories in this series:
YOUTH INSPIRED: Turning awkward moments into positive memories (Grace Boothman, Pacific Christian School)