Bridge Buddy Program Designed to Develop Social Skills

Avondale Middle School students learn about friendships through their buddies

For children who learn differently because they have a cognitive impairment, Down Syndrome or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), making friends can be the most difficult part of the school day. Students training to be an Avondale Middle School Bridge Buddy are aware that sometimes their classmates who learn differently aren’t able to pick up social cues, interpret them and then apply them appropriately. The students also know that sometimes a student who learns differently may need some level of academic support. “Sometimes they forget to do things or it may take them longer to do things or they may get frustrated if they don’t know how to do things,” explained Avondale Middle School Social Worker, Meridith Cervenak during a Bridge Buddy training for seventh grade students at the school. “Model the appropriate behavior, try to cue them on their lessons – don’t just give them the answer, have patience, be a good listener, be honest, and most importantly treat others the way you want to be treated,” Cervenak told the students.

Anjika Jain and Emily Fields with their Bridge Buddy

Anjika Jain and Emily Fields with their Bridge Buddy

The Bridge Buddy Program at the school was developed as a way to help students who learn differently build their social interaction skills and also to build awareness in the general student body about learning differences. The “buddies” attend trainings that take place every other week and hear about different learning impairments; tips on how to be a friend and mentor; and advice on how to be a good role model. Led by Cervenak, the sessions also cover advocacy, something buddies Anjika Jain and Emily Fields feel strongly about. Anjika and Emily, both in their second year with the program, agree that it’s “always important to stick up for people that can’t stick up for themselves.” What the two seventh-graders also point out though is that “it’s more important that we show people how to stick up for themselves and teach them they should stick up for themselves. We’re being role models.”

Cervenak shared with the students ways to be a good role model. “Sometimes you can have the most impact on a person just by doing the right thing. If you are a lunch room buddy and your friend doesn’t clean up their area then you should set the example by cleaning up your area. Hopefully once they see you doing the right thing they’ll join in.” Having the students serve as role models is a big part of the strategy when employing peers as social teachers. Along with demonstrating the “right things to do”, peers model appropriate communication (spoken and unspoken) and they demonstrate how to organize interactions and play – components of natural social relations. “The Bridge Buddy Program is really about creating an environment where students can learn social skills from each other.”

While there are obvious benefits of the Bridge Buddy Program for the students with a cognitive impairment, Down Syndrome or ASD, the trained peers also learn and grow from their own participation. Benefits for the trained peers includes developing empathy, tolerance, acceptance, patience and even appreciation for people’s differences; increased verbal and non-verbal communication capacity; and defined sense of self and increased level of self-confidence.

Anjika doesn’t think much about what she is getting out of the program. For her it’s about being friends with everyone, “just because they have a disability that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have the same opportunities as everyone else to have fun and make friends.”

About Rochester Media

Rochester Media publishes The Community Edge digital newsletter of recently posted articles from Rochester Media, a hyper-local news outlet covering all things in and around Rochester, Rochester Hills, and Oakland Township. Send us you press releases and news happenings to

Speak Your Mind