Deer Lakes

School District

Weleski named Adviser of the Year by Best Buddies Pittsburgh

Deer Lakes special education teacher Autumn Weleski is the 2017-2018 Adviser of the Year by Best Buddies Pittsburgh.  Weleski was nominated by outgoing senior Karns Hazlett and was selected by her peers at other area schools.

Best Buddies is the world’s largest organization dedicated to ending the social, physical and economic isolation of the 200 million people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).  It pairs disabled students with their able-bodied classmates for activities in and out of school. Weleski said her disabled students are paired with another student and get to take part in activities in which they might not otherwise be included.

“Students with intellectual disabilities often suffer a deficit in social skills as well and that can cause them to feel isolated,” Weleski said. “This program allows them to engage with their classmates and it allows their classmates the opportunity to make a real difference in people’s lives and that connection makes everybody a better student and citizen which creates a very positive school atmosphere.”

Weleski, who has been running Deer Lakes’ program for the past 11 years, said she’s most proud of the fact that the students tend to maintain their relationships long after their school days have ended.  “For many, this starts as a volunteer opportunity but it really becomes a fundamental part of their high school experience,” she said.  “It is very gratifying to run into a former student and learn that they still stay in touch with their best buddy partner from high school.”

Some of the initiatives Best Buddies worked on this year include the Friendship Ball, which was a dance for students involved in the program from throughout the greater Pittsburgh area.  Under Weleski, the group also conducted a school-wide “spread the word to end the word” campaign, which is a national initiative to raise awareness for how hurtful it is to people with intellectual disabilities and their families when people use a word that went from a clinical description to a commonly-used insult; and to persuade them to eliminate it from their vocabulary.

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