Under the stars: High school hosts Best Buddies Friendship Ball

Schools April 25, 2023

Northport High School students attended the Best Buddies Friendship Ball this past Friday, April 21. Photo courtesy of the Northport-East Northport UFSD.

Northport High School played host for the first time ever to the annual Long Island Best Buddies Friendship Ball this past Friday, April 21. Part of the district’s commitment to inclusivity and special needs awareness, this year’s event – themed “a night under the stars” – was a reason to celebrate for nearly 500 students and volunteers involved in the Best Buddies program.

An international nonprofit organization, Best Buddies is dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

On Friday, Northport students – dressed for the occasion – mingled with their peers from schools across Long Island, from Kings Park to Garden City. The evening’s festivities included a photobooth and a dance floor complete with a DJ and large scale displays for ambiance. For students in need of a break from all the excitement, a special sensory room was available for use where students could relax and play table games.

“This event is truly one of the most magical nights of the year and we were thrilled to be able to host it for the first time,” said Director of Secondary Special Education Allyson Giaimo. “Seeing the joy and the excitement that the students feel is a reminder of the many benefits of inclusivity and that opportunities like this serve to benefit the entire school community.”

Best Buddies coordinators Annette Giglio and Brett Belfiore helped plan the ball, along with many students and staff, including the entire NHS administration team as well as members of the National Honor Society, who volunteered their time to set up and coordinate the event and were overseen by society advisers Lynn Cromeyn and Sara Kohlmann.

In addition to the ball, the district recently hosted a “Choose to Include” day, which is supported by the Special Olympics Whole School Inclusive Initiative, to help spread the word about inclusion, and has a unified sports program to bring students with disabilities and general education students together for friendly competition across bowling and basketball. The district’s “Sparkle Squad,” an inclusive dance team, performs during select games and events.

“An important part of student success is ensuring every student feels a sense of belonging and community at school,” said Assistant Superintendent of Special Education and Student Support Services Louis Bonadonna. “While these events and activities are important, we also strive to ensure [students] feel welcomed every day and that the overall school environment is a reflection of the inclusivity we strive for.”