SPRINGFIELD, Mo — It’s easy to count differences in a colored world, but even at the same table, the most unlikely pair can find common ground.
“He is exactly like me!,” laughed 7th grader Payton Norris.
“He’s tall, he’s funny. Really funny.”
Payton and Zechariah became friends through Jarrett Middle School’s Buddy Program. It’s an elective course offered to 7th graders who want to make a difference with kids who have special needs.
“I wasn’t sure how the Buddy Program was going to go when we started it this year. So far it’s been amazing,” said Mrs. Carrie Wells.
Wells has taught 7 years at the middle school and the last 11 with Springfield Public Schools.
“All the students have different disabilities. Some of them are super social and want to give hugs, they want to talk, and they want to interact. Others want to give high-fives, but all of them love being a part of the community at Jarrett and making those connections.”
“Mrs. Wells had me help with Zechariah and we clicked,” said Payton.
“Then it was me and Paul. Then I came in and started helping Lilly. Ever since then I’ve been rotating with all of the kids.”
Payton and other Buddies in the program spend their time throughout the week not only playing games to develop social skills and critical thinking, but also walking with their classmates in the hallways, eating lunch together, and organizing the lost and found.
“DO GOOD THINGS” is a slogan painted in bold on one of the campus walls. It’s painted in black and white.
Symbolic of Payton’s decision to take part in the program.
“I chose this over general music. In that class we get to have free time where we can be on our phones, but I would rather be in here helping them and playing games with them.”