Deer Lakes High School teacher named Best Buddies Pittsburgh Advisor of the Year
Deer Lakes High School teacher Autumn Weleski is always there for her students no matter what time of day or what else may be going on in her life.
That dedication has earned her the title of Best Buddies Pittsburgh Advisor of the Year for the 2017-18 school year.
Best Buddies is a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending the social, physical and economic isolation people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It pairs disabled students with their able-bodied classmates for activities in and out of school.
Weleski, a life skills teacher who works with students with disabilities, was selected from among four other nominated advisors from the Pittsburgh area.
“I was extremely surprised,” Weleski said. “I was just really shocked.”
Weleski was nominated as advisor of the year by senior Karns Hazlett, 18, who was part of the Best Buddies program all four years of high school, serving as president for the last year.
During that time, she worked closely with Weleski to make sure the program was successful.
“She has always been just 100 percent all in,” Hazlett said. “Anything and everything we needed she was always there to help us and support us.”
Weleski spent much of the second half of the school year on maternity leave, but that didn’t stop her from staying involved.
“It was kind of like she was still there,” Hazlett said. “She was still there to answer my questions.”
Weleski has been advisor of the Best Buddies program for 11 years. She said it’s important to the school because it ensures everyone is included. Weleski said her disabled students are paired with another student and get to take part in activities that they otherwise might not be included in.
“We make sure that everybody feels like they’re important and they have a friend while they’re in high school,” she said.
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.
The group also conducted a schoolwide “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 the “R” word that went from a clinical description to a commonly-used insult; and to persuade them to eliminate it from their vocabulary.
Colleen Hicks, program manager of the Best Buddies Pittsburgh office, said Weleski’s efforts made her stand out in this year’s nominations.
“She is at all of their chapter activities that they do after school,” Hicks said. “Every single time being there and supporting, helping with the plans, (and) knowing all the students by name.”
Hicks said there are 21 schools in the Pittsburgh area that have Best Buddies programs, but they’d like to double that by next summer.
Weleski said she sees the advisor of the year award as recognition of the work all of the students put into the program.
“I think our chapter does amazing things,” she said. “It’s a reflection of our students and all their hard work.”