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Buddy Up Program demonstrates the true power of service learning


Zoe is a fun-loving 17-year-old who enjoys making new friends and playing games (particularly if the game involves dogs – but more on that from Zoe later).

For a few hours every fortnight, Zoe has been visiting St Peter’s College as a participant in our Buddy Up Program. This is because Zoe lives with Cohen Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that affects only 1,000 people worldwide.

Our Buddy Up Program was initiated to provide a brief period of fun and respite for families just like Zoe’s. There’s no doubt the program is achieving this goal but perhaps the best part is that it’s families just like Zoe’s who have in fact been reminding us about the true power of service learning – how a simple, inclusive idea really can benefit the community as a whole.

As a Support Coordinator working in the disability sector, Sarah knows first-hand the challenges many families are facing. She also happens to be Zoe’s mum.

“To be honest, I was surprised when I heard a mainstream school wanted to do something like this because I don’t know of anything else out there like the Buddy Up Program,” she said.

“But when I was asked by the School to provide some guidance on establishing it, I quickly got the sense that the intent was to do it right and to do it well.

“Zoe has loved being involved in the Buddy Up Program. She is incredibly chatty and has had a great time making friends and enjoying games as part of an activity that is completely designed for her.

“I usually drop her off and then go and do my grocery shopping or get some work done. I’ll then often come back and join the group for dinner which is lovely.”

Sarah has been impressed by the level of interest from St Peter’s College students to be involved in the Program.

“The boys are the most patient, kind, courteous students I’ve ever known,” she said.

“They have been naturals at interacting with Zoe and have quickly understood how to communicate on her level.”

Sarah is well aware that there is a long way to go in terms of equality and inclusion for people with disability.
“Children like Zoe are really no different to you and me in that they want to be loved and cared for and included – and that’s exactly what the Buddy Up Program is teaching these boys,” she said.

“There’s benefit for all with this Program; I know some of the boys want to do it in part for the leadership growth it represents but I’ve also witnessed them growing and learning as people.”

While Zoe says she was initially a little nervous to attend the Buddy Up Program she now thinks it’s great. Her favourite activity is to enlist the boys help in a game of playing dogs.

“I’ve made some really great friends here and we have a great time together,” she said.

“I enjoy playing tag and I also love playing dogs with them. The boys are really cool!”

From 4pm-7pm every second Monday, the Buddy Up Program sees us welcoming eight guests into our School. Students from Years 11 and 12 have been hosting these guests with a range of activities, including arts and craft, swimming, ball sports and more. They enjoy afternoon tea together and have dinner in Da Costa Dining Hall.

“Before starting the Program, all St Peter’s College students receive training from our Diverse Learning Needs teacher,” Service Learning Coordinator Ed Ruediger said.

“We also received support from an Occupational Therapist and external organisation VolunteerAbility, to ensure the Program could be delivered safely and appropriately for participants. Student to student handover has also been very important.

“Sarah and Zoe’s story is a powerful example of how this Program is encouraging all of us to share more fully in our common humanity.

“The lesson for our students is about service and character but we’ve all been reminded of how important it is for us to broaden, actively contribute and nurture the community within which we live. It’s clear the benefit of doing so is invaluable.”