Another Successful Show From Plainedge’s Best Buddies

This year marked the third annual Best Buddies fashion show at Plainedge High School. The theme? Dancing through the decades! Students donned attire from the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, and the modern day, and sashayed the runway to classic decades hits like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations”.

The show is the culmination of months of effort by Naomi Knee, Amy Bernard, and Lorraine Amato — educators at Plainedge — the Best Buddies officers, and of course, the students! “In October, Ms. Knee and Ms. Amato start coming up with dances during P.E. time for students to learn,” explained Bernard. “We tie in the fashion show piece with two separate runway walk segments. Students are split in half, with one group performing the ‘70s and ‘90s, and the other group performing the ‘80s and today.”

The show, like its predecessors, was sold out. Students were cheered on by hundreds of spectators in the auditorium, and many more watching from home.

Best Buddies is an international organization where students with disabilities are paired with neurotypical students. The program has had substantial and long-lasting success at Plainedge High School. “We have events, we have daily activities, some of our students have such strong friendships that they hang out outside of school, they play video games,” said Bernard. “[The fashion show] is a very special day — it is huge within the district.” At the beginning of the year, students have a getting-to-know-you meeting, and are then paired together with the help of the student advisors. Many of these pairings, aside from becoming good friends, starred in the fashion show together.

The Rhythm and Movement Dancers moved and grooved at the show, led by Lorraine Amato. (Photo credit Lauren Feldman)

Naomi Knee was inspired to create the show three years ago by students who loved to dance in her classes. The show has come together in an adaptive collaboration with P.E. students and their best buddy peers. Amato, who teaches dance and movement, gets her dancers involved throughout the show as well.

For Best Buddies Treasurer TJ, the club has truly been transformative. “Every time I go [to a Best Buddies event] there isn’t a single person who leaves there without a smile on their face.” The Junior is now in his second year of the club. “Ever since day one it’s been amazing. I decided even in my first year that I wanted to go for an officer [position].” If you’re ever nervous about meeting new people or making friends, this is the best club. A lot of people come here not knowing anyone… It just turns into a big friend group with everybody.”

Vice President Jillian couldn’t agree more. “I love [being a part of this club] so much. I’ve seen students be completely on their own, and they come to this club, and we’re able to be all together. They always leave with a smile on their face and a new friend.” Jillian has been a member of Best Buddies since the seventh-grade, and, now in her senior year, reflects fondly on all the joy the club has brought her.

Mike and Ashley were excited to be in the show this year. Mike said his favorite part of Best Buddies is seeing all of his friends. For Ashley, it’s been exciting to meet new people. The pair were among several students headlining the show, and while Ashley was nervous to be in her first performance, she, Mike, and all of the students did an amazing job!

“It is extremely emotional,” said Bernard. “We have students who love the idea but through the years they’ve been too afraid to be on stage, but this year they have the courage to be in the show.” What she hopes people will take away from the work the club does is to treat everyone equally. “We are all the same, it is an equal place here. There is no judgment. It doesn’t matter what you wear, how you dance, what you say. Everyone is included and accepted just the way they are. The world should be that way, unfortunately it isn’t, but at least here at Best Buddies it can be.”

About Best Buddies:
Best Buddies International is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment, leadership development, and inclusive living for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). The IDD community that Best Buddies serves includes, but is not limited to, people with Down syndrome, autism, Fragile X, Williams syndrome, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury and other undiagnosed disabilities. Best Buddies is the world’s largest organization dedicated to ending the social, physical and economic isolation of the 200 million people with IDD. Our programs empower the special abilities of people with IDD by helping them form meaningful friendships with their peers, secure successful jobs, live independently, improve public speaking, self-advocacy and communication skills, and feel valued by society.

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