In recent years, the special education population of Colonia Middle School has grown significantly, with special needs students now comprising nearly 20 percent of the school population.

Realizing that special needs students were not fully immersed in the school culture, Language Arts teacher Laura Skiba and her eighth-grade class developed an activity to share with a special needs class for an upcoming holiday. The result was successful and led to the development of “Friday’s Friends.”

Involving self-contained classroom teachers who instruct autistic and multiply-disabled children, the program pairs special needs and general education students as buddies. Each week, the buddies spend about 30 minutes together on various activities. Students help buddies in reading, writing, science and math activities. Data shows that the special needs students have increased their verbal skills, and are building vocabulary.

“Friday’s Friends” has another benefit. Special needs students feel more willing to participate in school-wide activities, and are less intimidated by the general education population.  In addition, the general education students benefit by learning to relate to all children and practicing peer leadership and mentoring.

The program has become a staple at the school and in the community. The Woodbridge mayor has taken part in the program, and helped fund activities and field trips. The school community also raises funds for Friday’s Friends, and the PTO awards a grant each year for supplies and donates to the Evening Under the Stars, a prom for all special needs students in the district, organized by Colonia Middle School faculty.

Information

Contact: Cynthia Lagunovich, principal, Cynthia.lagunovich@woodbridge.k12.nj.us

Online: https://www.njsba.org/news-publications/school-leader/julyaugust-2014-volume-45-1/innovations-in-special-education-2014-winners/

Recognized by the2014 Innovations in Special Education program