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Inclusion Under the Lights

When Christine Ude started working for Special School District in 1989, inclusivity in schools looked much different than it does today.

“It only happened by happenstance, or in very small amounts,” she said. “I didn’t see very many of my kids know many of the other students in the building.”

But during her time with SSD, which spans from working with students in the early childhood program to high school-aged students, she’s seen big changes in how students with differing needs are included at schools.

“I am now at the point where I am getting my former early childhood program students back onto my caseload,” said Ude, who is now an SSD area coordinator at Eureka High School in the Rockwood School District. “What I’ve noticed is the kids I saw them with when they were little are still the kids they are with now. That level of respect and protection and wanting them to feel a part of everything has continued to grow!”

The first full week of December marks Inclusive Schools Week around the country. The Inclusive Schools Network established Inclusive Schools Week in 2001. The week, which will be celebrated from Dec. 3 to Dec. 7 this year, recognizes the progress that schools have made in providing a supportive and quality education to an increasingly diverse student population, including students who may be marginalized due to disability, gender, socio-economic status, cultural heritage, language preference and other factors. The week also provides an opportunity for educators, students and parents to discuss what else needs to be done in order to ensure that their schools continue to improve their ability to successfully educate and include all children.

One place where students, educators and parents have come together in this manner is at Eureka High School’s Friday Night Lights. It incorporates students taking part in the school’s Best Buddies program, which is an international organization dedicated to establishing one-to-one friendships among students with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities.

At Eureka High, students from the football team, cheerleading squad and dance team take part in the Friday Night Lights Best Buddies program—pairing up with students who receive services from SSD, including younger students who will be heading to Eureka High in years to come.

The teams all have dinner with their buddies and their families before the main event on the field.

“When you have dinner with someone and have a conversation, you build a relationship,” Ude said.

After that, everyone hits the field, participating in some non-contact football action, cheering and dancing.

There is one exception. Gus, a junior at Eureka High who also receives services from SSD, serves as the announcer on the field—handling both player introductions and the play-by-play calls.

Gus said the Friday Night Lights Best Buddies program means a lot to him. “It just gave me friends,” he said. “That’s the best I can put that. Just everybody there is so accepting and wonderful and smiling all the time.”

Gus also had the opportunity to talk on the microphone about his buddy, Shane. “We’ve been friends for two years now,” Gus said. “He’s changed me.”

“The part I love the most is we have kids who for the first time feel a true part of the school,” Ude said. “They meet kids that they never would have had the opportunity to meet and they really become friends—having lunch together, giving high fives, talking in the hallway. Kids will play when you put them together.”

Perhaps Gus, who also happens to be an ambassador for Best Buddies Missouri, summed up the event best: “We do fantastic things for fantastic people, be they disabled or not.”

arrow icon The Eureka Friday Night Lights Best Buddies program was recently featured in this story on Fox2.


Published November 2018

students at Friday Night Lights

Inclusive Schools Week
December 3-7, 2018

SSD, in collaboration with Missouri TASH, will host a screening and discussion of the documentary "Intelligent Lives" in celebration of Inclusive Schools Week.

  • Dec. 5 7-9 p.m.
    Ethical Society of Saint Louis
    9001 Clayton Road
    St. Louis, MO 63117

A discussion with one of the stars of the film, Micah Fialka-Feldman, will begin at 8:15 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. No registration is required.




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Special School District of St. Louis County (SSD) is a leader in providing special education services to students with disabilities and also provides a wide range of career and technical education programs.
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