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April 15, 2016

Linking Up: Clarke Buddies Program Cultivates Friendships among Children with Hearing Loss


April 15, 2016—Today, many students who are deaf or hard of hearing are mainstreamed into public schools due to early detection, early intervention and drastic improvements in hearing technology. While this is a wonderful step in the realm of deaf education, it can be challenging for these students to make connections with others who are deaf or hard of hearing. As Clarke’s mainstream program continues to grow, it has become apparent that an increase in extracurricular activities—focusing on the development of meaningful, life-long relationships among deaf and hard of hearing students—is needed to foster social-emotional development.

With this need in mind, the Clarke Buddies program was created to encourage connections among students who are deaf or hard of hearing from across Massachusetts and Rhode Island. At Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech, our mission is to provide children and their families with life-long services to assist them in leading fulfilling and successful lives. And Clarke Buddies provides a safe and positive social experience for those students who are deaf or hard of hearing in the mainstream.

At Clarke Buddies, children with hearing loss ages 8-18 pair up into small groups of buddies, and engage in a variety of fun activities. Buddies’ primary goal is to encourage students to simply get to know one another—facilitated and supported by teachers of the deaf. In the past, Buddies has been solely based out of Northampton, but due to an increased demand for the program in Eastern Massachusetts, Buddies expanded to Clarke’s Boston area location last winter.

At Boston Buddies, a total of 12 buddies arrived for two meet-up sessions this winter season. The goal was to have a variety of options for the kids so that everyone found something they enjoyed. Baking cookies was the unanimous favorite, followed closely by acting! Each group of buddies also worked together to create a short commercial for one of their favorite products. They designed props and performed their commercials for their peers. Other activities included crafts and interactive games to help the buddies get to know one another.

Sixteen buddies attended the two winter meet-ups for Northampton Buddies, excited to catch up with old friends and meet new ones. The goal of the first session was to encourage the students to get to know each other through large and small group activities. Students alternated through three activities: baking rainbow cupcakes, making a rap video and scrapbooking. All three activities were a hit, with the students reporting that they enjoyed relaxing and talking during scrapbooking, eating the cupcakes and wearing funny costumes during the rap video.

While several buddies are naturally a bit nervous at their first visit, the guided activities with Clarke professionals allow them to quickly connect with and warm up to their peers. Buddies is a fantastic, structured way to help children who are deaf or hard of hearing bond with peers who are just like them.

Although plenty of our buddies’ conversations are about typical “kid stuff,” honest discussions about hearing loss often emerge in their dialogue. At the last buddies meet up in Boston, one student’s hearing aid batteries died and three other students came to his rescue with spares. He happily observed, “Wow! This would only happen at Buddies!” During a Northampton Buddies meet-up, students were candid about how their hearing loss impacts them in school, sports and with their friends. One student spoke about troubles with a teacher, who didn’t quite understand his hearing loss, while others offered advice about what he could say or do based on their own experiences. “I made new friends today,” one buddy posted on social media, along with a picture of the smiling faces of his new friends.

Coordinators of this program are Amanda Aliotta, a Teacher of the Deaf and SLP-A working in Clarke Northampton’s K-8 Program and Katie Jennings, a Teacher of the Deaf and Mainstream Coordinator for Clarke Mainstream Services in Boston.

For more information, go to clarkeschools.org/buddies.