Students from Claremont secondary’s peer initiative program Best Buddies hosted a like group of teens visiting from London, Ont., last week, and the result was positive all around.
Between whale watching and the usual Victoria tourist stops, the visiting students of Oakridge secondary’s Best Buddies program shadowed the Claremont Best Buddies in class.
“The exchange is extraordinary as a way to travel to another place,” said Roxanna Moser, a Grade 11 student at Claremont. “I’m hopeful we can do another exchange like this, and that other schools will get a chance to try this.”
Moser’s peer buddy is Claremont’s Lauryn Orme, in Grade 10, and the two were part of the Claremont group, led by teacher Randy Stetson, that visited London earlier this year.
Best Buddies is an international model that matches peers with student buddies who have intellectual disabilities (which also includes being on the autism spectrum). Locally, Oak Bay, Reynolds and Spectrum also have Best Buddies programs, which can exist at the elementary, high school and university levels.
The goal is to improve the quality of life for all involved, which was exactly the impact the trip to Saanich was having, said Oakridge teacher and Best Buddies co-ordinator Bart Irwin.
“I was motivated by seeing other high school exchanges but nowhere could I find another high school exchange that included the entire cohort of a group such as ours,” Irwin said. “Claremont does a good job of integrating all of its students on a daily basis [that we could learn from and experience].”
Irwin said he emailed the leaders of about 50 Best Buddies programs from one end of Canada to the other and it was Stetson who picked up the torch and truly embraced the idea Irwin had envisioned.
“One of our ‘buddies’ told their mom it was a life-changing experience after London,” Stetson said.
For a lot of the Oakridge parents, the idea of their kids participating in cross-school exchange such as this was hard to wrap their heads around, until they saw that it could go well, Irwin said.
“Once they saw it really could work, the support was incredible,” he added.
Irwin found support for the cross-school initiative from YMCA’s Youth Travel and Exchanges.
“It’s revealed capacities we knew were there for [both the peers and buddies],” Irwin said. “Their growth during the week is remarkable.”