Palo Alto High School’s Best Buddies chapter received the “Outstanding High School Chapter of the Year” award by the Best Buddies Organization last month, making the chapter a two-time consecutive recipient of the award.
Best Buddies is an international organization whose high school programs aim to establish friendships between students with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), according to its website.
Kristen Reeves, the San Francisco Bay Area Best Buddies Program Manager, addressed why Paly deserved this award.
“Paly was selected for this award because they emulate our ultimate vision, which is to put ourselves (Best Buddies) out of business,” Reeves wrote in an e-mail. “Best Buddies strives to have equality between those with and without Intellectual and Developmental disabilities [so] that programs won’t be necessary to forge inclusion.”
The Paly Best Buddies Club is headed by senior Club President Kate Marinkovich and sophomore Vice President Griffin Carlson. Special Education Teacher Erika Magagna is the club adviser.
Last year, the Paly chapter won this award for the first time, and Marinkovich and her sophomore buddy Diya Rao also won Outstanding Buddy Pair of the Year.
Magagna credits Marinkovich with playing a large role in helping the Paly chapter stand out.
“Our chapter president Kate Marinkovich has been super, super awesome,” Magagna said. “Just her personality – people can talk to her, she’s outgoing and positive … she brings that positive energy, so it makes our events more fun. Her commitment has really, really helped. The relationships she’s got with her buddy has helped others see how it can be, then others follow her example.”
The Paly chapter’s strong commitment to the club by individual members is another contributing factor to the chapter’s success, according to Magagna.
“We just have really, really awesome kids,” Magagna said. “There’s Griffin [Carlson] and his sister [sophomore] Brin [Carlson] and just a lot of peer buddies with really good kids who sign up for it because they are genuinely interested in it, so then their commitment really shines through. [Senior] Jack Paladin has also been a great buddy and role model. His commitment has been exceptional.”
The quality of the friendships created through the Paly Best Buddies chapter sets a good example for others to follow, according to Reeves.
“I started working for Best Buddies last October, and since then, I have been told that Palo Alto is the example for what Best Buddies chapters should be,” Reeves said. “Their friendships go beyond the classroom and are integrated into the daily lives of all the participants.”
The friendships are enjoyable for the club members, which makes it fun for them to meet their commitments, Magagna said.
“Our students really meet their commitments: they’re hanging out with their buddies for lunch at school at least once a week and then they have two outside of school events that everyone’s required to do,” Magagna said. “Everyone has just got good friendships, so it’s fun for them to go ice skating or go to Great America or whatever.”
The future for the Paly Best Buddies chapter is bright, Reeves said.
“Paly is well on its way to creating an environment of pure equality, inclusion and opportunity for those with IDD and that is why they were selected to be our Outstanding High School Chapter,” Reeves said.