This time last year, speech language therapist Lynne W. Friend was making out a schedule pairing students at Shipley's Choice Elementary with their classmates in special education needing a hand.

Tonight, Friend, principal Mary Ellen Street and county Director of Special Education Irene Paonessa will be honored at the White House in recognition of the school's Buddy-Buddy program.

The three will be among 250 recipients of the White House's "Daily Point of Light" award, honoring people throughout the nation for their community service efforts.

Shipley's Choice is slated to be given the award during the next school year. But tonight, the three women were invited to listen to a speech by President George Bush on domestic issues and community service.

Following the speech, which begins at 8 p.m., honorees will be photographed by the White House staff.

"It's still hard to believe that all of this has happened," Friend said. "It's wonderful. The kids are very excited.

"It was a give-and-take situation," she said of the Buddy-Buddy program. "Both populations benefited. They've grown by not thinking so much of themselves, and other students have role models and peers for social interaction. That's what it's all about. I hope it is something they will carry with them through life."

The program is designed to improve the interaction of 27 autistic, hearing-impaired and developmentally disabled students with their classmates. The number of students wantingto serve as buddies rose from 75 last year to 132.

Partnerships for special education students in grades 1 through 6 include buddies for art, physical education, music, lunch and recess.

"I think it is wonderful that the student volunteers are being recognized," Streetsaid. "Classroom teachers and buddies put in a lot of work."

A Buddy-Buddy picnic was organized Friday to culminate this year's program.

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