A program that helps integrate special needs students at Garneau high school has been recognized by Ottawa-Orléans MP Royal Galipeau.
The program was recognized for merit and longevity on June 18. Garneau was the first Ottawa high school to start a Best Buddies program, which is now in it's ninth year.
The program combines students with peers with intellectual disabilities or autism for monthly activities in and outside of school.
It benefits the students, said special needs teacher Manon Allaire, because they don't interact with the rest of the student body very often and it gives them some friendly faces in the hallways.
"They're less shy (because of the program) and always really happy to see you in the halls," said Best Buddies student president Linda Mardiros. "They know we're always here for them."
She said it gives her a chance to make different friends and get to know a set of classmates she wouldn't normally interact with.
"They're normal, just like us," she said. "They just have special needs."
In most Best Buddies groups, peer helpers are paired up with a student as buddies, but the Garneau group functions as one big group instead.
Peer leaders meet weekly to discuss activities and plan events, and get together with entire group once a month.
This year, activities included bowling, a water fight and a Halloween party.
They also raised almost $1,000 this year at a car wash to help fund next year's Best Buddies activities.
Once or twice a year, there is also a regional dance held for all the Best Buddies groups in Ottawa at one of the participating high schools. Garneau has hosted several in the past; this year 75 students attended the party at De La Salle high school.
Allaire, who knows all the individual students, attends the events to supervise and help if any problems come up.
Heather Brown, from Best Buddies Canada, said Garneau has one of Ottawa's strongest groups because they are so tight knit and has strong leadership at the student level driving the program.
Past students who have graduated are even invited to come back and take part in events at the school. There is always anticipation in the lead up to any of the Best Buddies events, which each student takes home a personal invitation to, Allaire said.
"They feel like they're part of the school," Allaire said. "And they have their own special extracurricular activity."
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Other participating schools in Ottawa include Canterbury, Earl of March, Gisele-Lalonde, De La Salle, Glebe, Gloucester, Lisgar, St. Francis Xavier, St. Patrick and St. Peter high schools.