During lunch on Thursdays, a group of students clad in gray T-shirts congregates near the small gym. But who are they? And why are they here? These students are a part of the club Sea King Peers, formerly known as Best Buddies. The club’s goal is to create friendships between kids who have intellectual and learning disabilities and those who do not. Staff members Nicole Fusaro and Tammy Owney lead the club.
Every Thursday, the club meets at the small gym to eat lunch and play inside. Students with intellectual and learning disabilities and those without are paired together, spending the day together and over time becoming close friends.
“We’re trying to get everybody to know each other and everybody learns from their friendships with each other, both side of the coin,” said Owney. “You’ve got the kids with the intellectual and developmental disabilities, but you also have the kids who have maybe never been exposed to someone with learning disabilities. Their whole world is changed too. They’re now seeing how life might be for somebody whose school day is different.”
Sea King Peers is an opportunity for kids to make friendships that they may not have made on their own. The club simultaneously gives kids lifelong lessons as well as friendships.
“You can meet a lot of new people,” said junior Sophie Maldonado. “This school has changed my life; there are so many great people and they all care about me and understand what I’ve been going through.”
Freshmen Toby Sandoz explained “Sea King Peers has given me the opportunity to form genuine connections with people I may have never met or interacted with, and has helped me form everlasting friendships with truly kind and incredible people.”
“It opens the eyes of all the students. Everybody has struggles, in school, in life, and if we can all just take a moment to understand that and be patient, we can all get along and foster friendships, becoming friends that stay in touch even after leaving [Corona del Mar] CdM,” Owney said.
As a club, Sea King Peers wants every kid to delve a bit deeper and come to understand each student in a fun, free space. Club members play games in the gym, or stay outside talking or on electronics.
“Just be patient,” Owney counseled. “Sometimes the students might meet the person that they’re paired up with and they might not know how to interact with that student yet, but with patience, they form that relationship, and you learn to work and communicate in whatever way that works for that student.”
But these friendships are not limited to Thursdays. Some kids go to football games or bowling together. These activities can be great ways to get to know the Sea King Peer outside of school.
Fusaro explained, “You must be committed. Not only on Thursdays at lunch, but you should hang out with your buddy at least two times a month outside of school.”
At its core, Sea King Peers is all about inclusion and understanding each other in a one-on-one friendship. If people just have a little bit of patience, a lot of kindness, and a willingness to learn to understand each other, they can learn so much about others as well as themselves