Nordonia celebrates National Disabilities Awareness Month

by Nicole Rosselot

This spring, Nordonia Hills City School District joined communities around the country in observing National Disability Awareness Month, an annual campaign that encourages inclusivity and raises awareness and understanding of disabilities.

Beginning the week of April 11, schools throughout the district participated in activities designed to foster connections between typically developing students and their peers with special needs. At Nordonia High School, students with special needs were featured on school TV, and throughout the district, students watched a video montage of celebrities with disabilities who have achieved great success. A bowling party for special needs students and their peer mentors was held on April 26 at North Woods Lanes, and on May 12, Nordonia’s Disabilities Awareness Month concluded with the K-12 Special Olympics, held at NHS’s Boliantz Stadium.

According to Amie Cormell, district coordinator for B.U.D.S. and NHS physical education department chair, Disability Awareness Month helps students develop empathy and encourages them to interact with their special needs peers. B.U.D.S., which stands for Building an Understanding of Differences through Social interaction, is a peer mentor group bringing together students with special needs and their typically developing peers.

B.U.D.S., which is unique to NHCSD, was founded in 2004 and has over 400 student members. Just this year, Cormell said B.U.D.S. expanded to include the elementary and middle schools. “Originally it was a high school only chapter, but this year, because of the popularity at the high school, there was a push to take it district wide,” Cormell said.

B.U.D.S. students meet at least once a month for smaller, school-specific activities or larger district-wide events. Activities this year include a trick or treat event, pizza parties, movie nights and an elementary school holiday party. The middle and high school B.U.D.S. students regularly attend school events together like football and basketball games, and more recently, the NHS production of “The Little Mermaid.”

According to Cormell, the Nordonia students create a welcoming environment for their special needs peers. “The culture that has been created specifically here in the high school is something you don’t see in a lot of schools,” she said. “There is inclusion throughout the day and it’s not just teachers making it happen, but the kids.”

Genuine friendships blossom through B.U.D.S., and as a result, students visit special needs classrooms to have lunch with their friends. There has even been a “promposal,” with a special needs student taking a typically developing peer to the prom. “Those kinds of things are happening naturally [among the students] because of the culture of inclusion throughout the district,” Cormell said.

The success of the B.U.D.S. program inspired Cormell to take inclusion a step further. In 2018, with the district’s support, she created a physical education elective called TeamMates, an adapted physical education class in which typically developing students interact with special needs students through sports, games and activities. New this year is Adapted Art, in which special needs students create art alongside their typically developing peers.

A number of peer mentors in the B.U.D.S. program are pursuing a degree in special education and the special needs students are thriving. “They are happy because they have friends, and that really makes a difference,” Cormell said. ∞

BUDS Students (l-r) Marina Ruhl, Stella Basch, Phillip Lagnese,
Grace Basch, Maverick Ruhl and Carter Ference pose
before bowling. Photo submitted.
Charlotte Sebastain helps Cooper Ference
bowl. Photo submitted.