VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - High school can be tough, especially for students with disabilities.
News 3 got an inside look at a Cox High School program called "Beach Buddies," which aims to help include students with special needs.
Kids who have autism, Down syndrome and other special needs are teamed up with other students at the school.
In total, there are about 35 students who meet up several times throughout the month.
They gather at school, at events and take field trips.
Caroline Holland is the student president of the group. She shared pictures of a trip to the aquarium, a dinner before a dance and homecoming.
“It was fun. We were on the Beach Buddies float, and it was fantastic,” said group member Mya Fiedorczyk. “The Beach Buddies is a very special program that’s for kids with disabilities, and you get to be with your buddies.”
News 3 met up with the group on Wednesday.
The teens did some exercise outside with Coach Theresa Jones and then painted pumpkins together.
They usually get together every other Wednesday.
The students will check on the kids with special needs, and they are friendly to each other in the halls.
“It’s an attempt to get our special education students integrated with the high school experience,” said teacher Jay Cope. “It’s beautiful. We love these guys. They are capable of so much, and we’re just trying to bring out the best in them and make high school a good experience and have them involved for everything that goes on.”
“We just want to include them in our school and give them a voice. Before this, they were not very well represented. We’re just trying to have fun and be inclusive,” said Caroline.
“The reason why I love Caroline is because she’s very sweet to me,” said Mya. “She gives me great smiles. She gives me some great hugs, too.”
Cope said 120 students applied to be a mentor in the Beach Buddies program, but only 25 were accepted. There are 10 special needs students involved in the program.
District officials say other high schools have similar programs, but Beach Buddies is unique to Cox High.