Building bonds, gingerbread houses in Lake Stevens

LAKE STEVENS — First, a teacher got the noisy kids to quiet down and sit at the cafeteria tables. Then a speech therapist told them what to expect when a group of special-needs kids joined them.

A parent instructed the kids in the fine art of squeezing a decorating bag so that icing doesn’t explode all over.

Such was the order of events at Lake Stevens Middle School on Wednesday morning as part of its new “Buddy Program,” which organizes activities in which students are buddied up with special-needs students.

Wednesday’s mission: Build a gingerbread house.

About 45 kids from the school’s sixth and seventh grades were chosen as buddies for 33 special needs kids. They were guided through the exercise, which involved gluing gingerbread panels on a milk carton with icing, then decorating the facade with icing, candy filigrees and architectural features.

The special-needs kids ranged from animated and talkative to those who communicated primarily with tablet computers.

Xaphya Madden, 12, jumped into the task and soon had the basic frame of her house finished. She laid down icing in the gaps between gingerbread panels like mortar.

“Done!” she shouted, and ran to pick up candy pieces from another table.

At another table, Jose Jimenez, 13, used a tablet to communicate with other kids. He keyed the icons for “look” and “that” on his screen, then pointed to a frosting icicle he made.

Sarah Hirsch, a student support specialist for the Lake Stevens School District, explained that the buddy students were selected for good listening and communication skills.

“They’ve done well in their classes, or they’ve shown leadership skills,” Hirsch said. “They’ve gone above and beyond in the classroom.”

One such buddy is Cameron Heer, 11, working alongside Jordan Proffitt, 12, from the special-needs program.

“I’ll put on the frosting, you put on these here,” Cameron pointed to a small gingerbread man and a side panel of the house. “You have to be gentle though.”

Kathy Hermes, a teacher and adviser to the Associated Student Body, which is funding the Buddy Program, said the plan is to find opportunities to integrate the school’s two student populations.

The first event was a pumpkin painting session in October, and they’re looking at something for Valentine’s Day as well.

“As many ways as we can to get the kids interacting with each other,” Hermes said.

As the activity wrapped up, Xaphya and her buddy, Silver Clinton, 11, were still working on their tableau with an elaborate house, a tree (an upside-down ice-cream cone topped with a marshmallow star), and a yard with frosting snow. They dropped red and green glitter over the whole scene.

“Don’t call it pixie dust. It’s berries,” Xaphya said.

Hirsch said that the middle-school kids were really the perfect age for this kind of program, and they were excited in advance of Wednesday’s activity, asking about the kids they’d be helping out.

And it’s a valuable learning experience for both the special-needs kids and the buddies.

“It’s great to see them talk in the hallway. The buddies will talk about it forever,” she said.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; cwinters@heraldnet.com.

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