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Team Bulldog: Breaking social barriers

By McKenna Renier

Have you ever noticed that the type of clubs around the school are very exclusive? Not exclusive to general education students, but exclusive to students with special needs.

Be honest: rarely do you even see students with special needs besides in the morning when they hand out passes. They are tucked away in a back hallway and given little opportunity to socialize normally with students their age. One club aims to change that.

Team Bulldog is a club where all students are welcome. The focus is inclusion of all students at Batavia High School. Team Bulldog was created by a handful of students and teachers in hopes to offer socialization opportunities between students with disabilities and their non-disabled peers. Team Bulldog is different from any other club in the school.

“It’s the only club at Batavia that includes everyone despite their ability,” said Julianne Robinson, a student that helped establish the club.  “It’s just a group of teenagers coming together to have fun and improve social skills that some students lack.”

The club is attempting to reach out to gen-ed students in order to educate them on people with disabilities. Club members say that they just want the VTP students to be treated as they are, like normal teenagers who like to talk about relationships, sports, and hobbies.

“It’s a beautiful thing what we’re doing by breaking so many barriers and stereotypes,” said Jessica Miller, a president of the club. “We are showing that just because someone has a disability doesn’t make them any less human than other people.”

Team Bulldog gives students the ability to relax and have fun with other students their age.

“My favorite part about Team Bulldog is hanging out with all of the kids,” said Jake Spencer, a student who participates in the VTP program.

This club is a way for students like Jake to meet new people he typically wouldn’t meet.

“Students who are part of Team Bulldog will benefit by developing lifelong friendships,” said Teresa Owen, the classroom teacher of the VTP program at Batavia High School and Team Bulldog Sponsor.

The benefits are numerous for everyone involved in these inclusion programs. Not only do the students with special needs take something away from this club, but so do the gen-ed students.

For a journal article in Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, Charles A. Peck interviewed students across the country and concluded that their benefits from inclusion clubs like Team Bulldog include: “Improvements in self-concept, growth in social cognition, increased tolerance of other people, reduced fear of human differences, development of personal principles, and interpersonal acceptance and friendship.”

In the club, students hang out and do activities at the school and in the community. This club meets after school and has an outing once a month.

At a typical Team Bulldog meeting students just do normal teenage things like attend sporting events, have movie nights, and “other fun things you would do with your friends,” Robinson said. The club has tye-dyed shirts, gone to a basketball game, played bingo, and are planning to have events like a senior picnic and a baking day.

“The best part of Team Bulldog is seeing students at different school events that they normally would not attend,” Owen said.

This club allows opportunities for students with disabilities to go to sporting events and activities knowing they will have people with them feeling included and a part of something.
Team Bulldog gives students an opportunity to diversify their friendships while giving them a place to go where they are accepted and included.

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