Buddies Understanding Different Students, known as BUDS, is the Life Skills/Peer Tutoring Program at Dobyns-Bennett that began in January 2007.
Life Skills teacher Denise Oglesby — Kingsport High School Teacher of the Year for the 2008-09 school year, said she has administered a tutoring program for eight years, but when she revamped it in 2007 the program grew in one leap from one senior to 10 seniors.
The seniors help the special education students with academics, which for the students functioning around low elementary levels can include identifying numbers and colors and non-verbal communications for those who don’t talk, as well as adaptive physical education and practical daily chores like how to sort laundry.
The program — for special needs students 16 to 21 — served eight students this year but will grow to serve 12 special needs students next school year.
It had 12 seniors in the fall term and eight in the spring term or a total of 16 different seniors, since some, like Ross Ramsdale, were BUDS for both terms.
Ramsdale decided to seek out the program based on the recommendation of an older friend who participated.
“I loved it the first semester. I originally didn’t have a space for this in my schedule,” Ramsdale said. “I dropped a class to do this I loved it so much.”
For the 2009-10 year, Oglesby said demand for senior slots may exceed available space.
“They give up a class to be in here. They apply to be in here,” Oglesby said, emphasizing that she hopes BUDS teaches the seniors to have “the heart of a servant.”
She said the seniors learn about being “rude” by not saying hello and interacting with all the special needs students.
“We try to make everybody here feel they’re family because everybody wants to belong to something,” Oglesby said.
The class, with the help of BUDS, takes field trips to help students learn how to function in everyday situations. They have gone to O’Charley’s, Bristol Motor Speedway, Warriors Path State Park, Salsarita’s and Sagebrush. The non-verbal students order food based on photos, drawings or yes/no questioning.
Twice a year, the class and BUDS go to Wal-Mart with an assignment to find and pick items needed for the class.
The field trips are paid for by a fall craft sale of items the special education students make.
Oglesby said all the students, including the seniors, learn about finding and choosing things they might not otherwise buy and searching out the best bargains.
For the seniors, she said, it all boils down “to put their own needs aside and think about someone else.”
“They share without expecting anything in return,” Oglesby said. “But they leave with a whole lot.”
Brad Hoover, 18, was in the program for the second term.
“I had heard about it my junior year,” when Oglesby came to one of his classes, Hoover said. Hoover said he prayed about the issue, and when she came to another of his classes he decided to try to get in the program.
“This is something more than a class,” said Hoover, who plans to attend Clemson University and major in political science.
Brandie Gilliam, 18 and in the BUDS program the second term, said she got interested because of her interaction with an autistic student over her four years of school, a boy she would see in the hall on a regular basis.
“I tell everybody” about BUDS, Gilliam said. “I’m going to major in special education.”
Gilliam said she plans to attend Northeast State Technical Community College, where she’s already in the dual enrollment program, and then go on to Carson-Newman College if it starts a special education teaching degree program.
Lauren Allen, also 18, like the other seniors recommended rising seniors consider the program.
Allen, who plans to attend the University of South Carolina to major in biochemistry and minor in Spanish, said she has a great-uncle with special needs and enjoys being around him. Allen said she chose the BUDS program over being a teacher’s aide.
“You have to be a fit for this program. Not everybody can be a BUD,” Allen said.
“It teaches you patience,” Allen said. “But if I’m having a hard day and I come down here, it turns my day around.”
To participate in BUDS, seniors must be on track to graduate on time, have at least a 3.5 grade point average, and have no problems with behavior or attendance.
Approval for participation is at the discretion of Oglesby and the D-B administration, including Assistant Principal Julie Peters, who helps administer the program.
Oglesby said D-B students interested in the program should contact their guidance counselor.