Walter Johnson's Best Buddies Is Top Chapter Winner

September 10, 2007
Walter Johnson High School Best Buddies Named Top High School Chapter in the World

‘Most Outstanding’ Honor Given to the School’s Chapter In Its First Year

In its first year, Walter Johnson High School’s Best Buddies chapter has been named the most outstanding high school chapter in the world by Best Buddies International.

Walter Johnson was selected from more than 800 high school programs worldwide for its dedication to enhancing the lives of people with intellectual disabilities by providing opportunities for one-on-one friendships. A plaque was presented to Chapter President Sara Moss and Buddy Director Eli Lewis at Best Buddies International’s annual three-day Student Leadership Conference over the summer. The school also received a $275 scholarship for its president to attend the leadership conference next summer and $300 for its chapter coffers.

“The Board of Education is proud to host 11 Best Buddies chapters in our high schools and three in our middle schools,” says Board of Education Vice President Shirley Brandman. “For Walter Johnson High School to be named the best high school chapter in the world is a wonderful accomplishment, and a testament to our students’ ability to learn from one another and to celebrate their diversity.”

The international program, founded in 1989 by Anthony Kennedy Shriver, pairs general education students (buddy peers) with special education students (buddies) to create one-on-one friendships and expand connections among groups of students with differing abilities. Best Buddies has now grown to more than 1,300 middle school, high school and college campuses across the country and internationally.

“This is a wonderful program to foster friendships between students,” says Superintendent Jerry D. Weast. “We are so proud of these students for taking the initiative to launch this program and for taking the lead in the state and around the world.”

Walter Johnson’s chapter “has dedicated student leaders and faculty advisors,” says Lindsay Bird, former Best Buddies program manager for Montgomery County. “The buddy pairs have become real friends and impacted each other in a positive way. They’ve made a big difference in their school community by changing attitudes toward people with disabilities. They have really gone above and beyond all our expectations.”

In the spring, Walter Johnson competed against other high school chapters statewide and was named the Outstanding Best Buddies Chapter in Maryland. They then went on to the international competition. In July, Walter Johnson students Moss and Lewis attended the Student Leadership Conference at Indiana University, attending workshops on leadership, community service and civic responsibility, and a culminating awards ceremony. They were thrilled when they realized their chapter was the big winner.

“Best Buddies is a program committed to building friendships between students,” says Walter Johnson Principal Chris Garran. “Knowing the WJ community, I am not surprised at winning this award. It speaks to what this community values.”

Moss, now a senior, was motivated to grow the chapter after attending a Best Buddies summer leadership conference in 2005. That fall, after intense promotion, the chapter’s first meeting brought in 35 student participants. By the end of the 2006-2007 school year, they had grown to 46 student members. They hope this year’s membership will top 60 students.

Buddy pairs have planned and participated in a variety of group projects, such as cleaning up a park, attending sporting events and organizing fundraisers. They’ve also been involved in activities such as talent shows, dances, ice cream socials and family movie nights.

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