Tom Braverman

[ Teacher ] [ Buddy ] [ Silent partner ]

Breaking down barriers is what Tom Braverman’s work is all about.

Beyond his work as a special education teacher at City High, Braverman also directs the Best Buddies program, which partners students who have intellectual and developmental disabilities with general education students. Through one-on-one activities and outings, the pairs establish friendships that otherwise may not have formed in a day-to-day high school setting.

“My joy comes from seeing those kids interacting with each other,” Braverman said. “And it’s not like, ‘Oh I get to hang out with a special ed kid, isn’t that sweet?’ It’s, ‘Hey, I’m kicking with it a friend.’ Seeing the light bulb moment not only with our kids having a true friend outside of the confines of special ed classroom, but also seeing those gen ed kids say, ‘This is really cool; I have a ball when I’m with them.’”

Braverman helped establish City High’s chapter of the national organization four years ago, and it has grown to 84 members this school year, with well more gen ed students than the 20 needed for pairs. Students meet twice a month for one-on-one activities such as bowling or going to a movie, and there’s at least one large group activity a month, such as the recent Valentine’s Day party or the talent show in the school’s auditorium.

Braverman said he mostly acts as a “silent partner” in what largely is a student-run organization. The high number of general ed participants speaks to the civic-mindedness of City High’s student body, he said.

“It seems like the general ed kids who come on board are the finest and brightest kids at City High,” Braverman said. “They’re not doing it for any other reason than the intrinsic value of doing the right thing.”

Braverman also has partnered with a number of local businesses organizations — from restaurants to bookstores to hospitals — to establish a work experience program for his students. Participants are lined up with unpaid after-school jobs where they learn skills that will help them transition into the workforce once they graduate from City High.

For Braverman, it’s all about creating fulfilling high school experience, not only for his special education students, but also for their buddies.

“Some maintain the relationships after they graduate, which is really what the program sets out to do — forming relationships that will last a lifetime,” he said.

— Josh O’Leary