Best Buddies President Rachel Poley Seeks to Unite All NAHS Students


Best Buddies

Ryan, Rachel, and Ana celebrate a fun time together in the lunch room.

Camryn Keller, Staff Reporter

Kids with special needs are often left behind or forgotten about. Because they are in separate classrooms and rarely have opportunities to interact, there is a disconnect between them and students in regular education classes. This unintentionally isolates a significant portion of students from the rest of a school.

To remedy the disconnect and enable students with special needs to experience the world more fully, Norristown Area High School opened the Best Buddies chapter two years ago, joining an organization that is dedicated to fostering relationships between students with special needs and regular education students. 

Best Buddies is a worldwide program with several thousand chapters from all over the world.  The organization’s mission is to establish “a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment, leadership development, and inclusive living for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.” In other words, it urges inclusion and opens doors of opportunity for people with special needs.  

Rachel Poley, a current senior,  is and has been one of the leading figures within Norristown’s Best Buddies program. She was a member during the first year of the chapter and, knowing little more than the mission statement of the program, she eagerly stepped up to the plate. 

“You never get to see the [kids with special needs] while you are at school,” Poley said. That was something she thought needed to change. Her naturally sociable personality lets her enter the program and thrive. 

Poley is now the president of the Norristown chapter of Best Buddies. She is known for humor and open-heartedness, as well as her work ethic. When dedicating herself to extracurricular activities, whether it is bowling or acting in the school play, people know they can rely on her. 

“She doesn’t judge or criticize others, she listens,” said  Steven DiNenno, a teacher at NAHS and one of the co-advisers of Best Buddies, along with Lisa Connolly of the Best Buddies Program. ”I think she is a really good listener and she is a really good communicator. She makes you feel like your opinion matters.”  DiNenno has had Poley as his student for three years in the gifted program and AP classes, so he has been able to watch her grow in many ways. 

Karla Kay-Conway, a paraprofessional who works with many of the students with special needs, approached Poley on a whim, asking her to join. Because the program was unknown at the time, he DiNenno and co-adviser Lisa Connolly were struggling to recruit new members. They found that many students were opting to join clubs like Blue and White Society, a more traditional and popular club, instead.   

Although her joining Best Buddies seemed circumstantial, Poley’s outgoing attitude toward the program and its mission is what made her stand out. She hadn’t been looking to become the president of the club.

“Ms. Connolly and I, it took us literally a second for both of us to say that Rachel should be president because she is just that kind of student you want running a club like Best Buddies,” said DiNenno. The teachers and students around her know that she is someone they can trust and rely on. 

She is well known for her involvement in Best Buddies throughout the school and has been a major influence on other students joining the program. Poley is known for her opinion on the lack of communication between regular education and students with special needs. Once she had realized that the separation was there, she wanted to change it.

“I never talked to them,” Poley said. “So I thought that it was a great opportunity to see the other people the school has to offer.” In Poley’s mind, the overall goal of Best Buddies is to allow students to feel like they can be more open with each other and allow for connections to be made.

“I feel sometimes because of people’s preconceived notions about [people with special needs]. They kind of try to baby them sometimes,” Poley said 

Through Best Buddies, Poley believes that people are learning and becoming more accepting. Since the program at Norristown has started, the students with special needs are more open to walking up and talking to other students. Many times at lunch, the regular education students that are part of the program will introduce their buddies to their friends. This allows students with special needs to expand their friend groups and meet new people. 

 “You start talking to them and you realize they also talk like you do. Like we all talk the same,” Poley said. Students that would never interact with students with special needs now learn that there isn’t a big difference between them. Everyone, regardless of their educational program, has their likes, dislikes, and different personalities.

Poley has been a front runner in this change, leading by example and working in the program with a passion. She has also formed a strong sense of community throughout the program.

“As a whole, the program is not only connecting with your buddies but everybody’s buddies connecting with each other,” Poley said. The program helps form a network for new and possibly life long friendships. 

Before Coronavirus, Poley’s favorite Best Buddies event was the dance parties. “I think those times were when you felt the community the most. When we are all just standing in a circle, exhausted because we are dancing so hard. Those were some of the best memories.” She loved getting everyone together to just dance and not have to focus on anything but a moment with friends.

Now, while we are in the thick of the Coronavirus pandemic, she still has plans to have get-togethers with everyone. Activities like movie night, bingo, or just a chill dinner together, all done virtually through a zoom call so that everyone can stay safe. All of these continue to foster friendships and create memories. She has been working with other presidents from other high school chapters to come up with ideas and work out plans, always willing to take the extra step and go the extra mile. 

While life is obviously different this year, Poley is looking forward to it and is planning to make her senior year and last year with Best Buddies a blast.