Kylie Gapko, Grace Bendix and Carissa Rudd come together at the Valentine’s Day party organized by CHS Buddies.

CHS student initiates new group

By Jason Arndt

Junior Carissa Rudd, an aspiring educator, just wanted to make Westosha Central High School a more inclusive atmosphere for special education students.

The inclusive atmosphere became a reality last November, when the Board of Education approved a new extra-curricular club called CHS Buddies, which creates buddy pairs between students with and without disabilities.

Rudd felt it was necessary to propose the new club at Westosha Central.

“We never really had a club like this and I thought that special education students needed more attention,” she said. “I always wanted to start something for them.”

She said the idea came from Burlington High School, and initially, Rudd did not know where to start in creating a club.

Looking for direction, Rudd went to school administrators and staff, including Special Education teacher Erin Shefky.

Shefky, the head of the department, immediately went to the Board of Education for approval.

“They were great and were very supportive,” Shefky said.

Principal Lisa Albrecht supported the new club, according to a document presented before the Board of Education, indicating it meets the district’s strategic plan.

“The basis of my recommendation comes from the mission of the organization to create a more inclusive environment, which is in support of Strategy 1 of the District’s Strategic Plan,” she wrote.

Since then, Rudd and her peers have organized different social activities and offered academic support designed to bolster independence among students with disabilities.

As part of CHS Buddies, students without disabilities walk with special education students in school, assist with homework assignments and organize a monthly social event. The club also coordinates out-of-school activities.

According to Shefky, not only have parents been supportive of the club, students have also shown an eagerness to join.

Currently, Westosha Central has about 17 special education students, who are paired with 24 other students.

“It was awesome to see the students wanting to be a part of it,” Shefky said. “(The parents) love it and were very super excited about it.”

“There were a lot of people that wanted to join right away. They were eager to start a friendship with special education students,” Rudd said.

Additionally, the club fosters social engagement, regardless of ability.

The social engagement, Shefky said, is vitally important for her students.

“It is extremely important. Some of these kids might not go to a lot of the dances, but to have an event where they can go and be with their buddies is important,” she said.

A recent Valentine’s Day party brought nothing but positive results for the students involved.

The in-school event also drew participation from school administrators.

“We had a Valentine’s Day party and I have never seen them smile or laugh so much,” Rudd said. “It was amazing.”

“It was just so much fun. They loved it.”

Meanwhile, the new club looks to continue growing, and has many more events planned in the future.

“I just hope this gets bigger and bigger,” Rudd said.

For Rudd, seeing the happiness among all participating students is enough for her to stay committed the new club.

“I have always had a special place in my heart for special education,” she said. “I want to go to school for elementary education. I just have a really big heart for kids in general. They make me really happy.”


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