The previously fully-remote Best Buddies club is scheduled to have an in-person, outdoor Friendship Walk this April due to changes in COVID-19 restrictions.
In late October 2020, Best Buddies began meeting in a fully remote environment due to limitations prompted by the pandemic. Despite the remote environment, the club still managed to build relationships between general education and special education students, as they have in previous years, Best Buddies sponsor Cassie Niego said.
“Things have been challenging, but we’re hopeful that [COVID-19] is not here forever,” Niego said. “We know it’s not here forever, and so I think that’s a positive, too—just keeping people inspired. And the opportunity of finally having approval to pull over 100 people onto Bennett Field is a positive step in the right direction for all of us.”
After waiting the entire 2020-21 school year to receive approval from Student Activities to meet in-person, Best Buddies has finally been approved to have a Friendship Walk in person on April 25, tentatively at 11 a.m. on Bennett Field, Niego said. General and special education students will come together to walk, talk and socialize. There will also be music, dancing and games such as Simon Says and the Hokey Pokey.
“The goal of the club is relationships and friendships,” Niego said. “So being able to do that in person is just so much easier—that’s what true organic relationships are [in-person]. This is the pinnacle of what the club is and allows us to truly get together and develop it.”
However, though this meeting marks a transition for the club, Best Buddies has been achieving the club’s mission of inclusion even within a remote environment, club member Ellie Moran ‘24 said. The club began later than in previous years and completely over Zoom.
“It’s definitely really different than it would be if it were in-person, but it’s still nice that it’s there,” Moran said. “In person, you’d probably get that face-to-face connection, so it is really different, but I think that that’s something everyone has experienced this year—not being able to connect in person.”
The online environment posed many challenges for the students involved in Best Buddies, especially those with either cognitive or physical disabilities, Best Buddies president Margaret Hall ‘21 said. It is more difficult for some of the “Buddies” to participate in and stay engaged in a Zoom as opposed to an in-person interaction. Having to fill every minute of time rather than simply letting the students interact and talk naturally, as they would at a normal, in-person gathering, has also proven difficult, she said.
During these monthly online meetings, the entire group of members will play a game such as Kahoot, Bingo or even a scavenger hunt, Hall said. The students then break off into breakout rooms to socialize and talk in smaller groups, made up of both special and general education students.
“There’s still a lot of really good interactions,” Hall said. “It’s a little different but there’s still a lot of great connections made.”
Many things that Best Buddies is doing now virtually once seemed nearly impossible, back in August and September. However, after perseverance, patience and self-sacrifice from all members, this club is excited to finally come together for the first time in almost an entire school year, Niego said. After the past year, it will be a privilege to be together again face to face.
“I think adversity is a good thing,” Niego said. “I think the idea through all of this is to stay positive, and I think that the whole student body is really figuring that out. So I wouldn’t look at our Friendship Walk as another challenge but more of a celebration of the challenges we’ve faced. So, that’s amazing. That will be amazing to do.”