Benicia Unified School District

The Special Friends Program has been a mainstay in the Benicia Unified School District since 1989. The Special Friends Program is designed for students primarily in grades TK through fifth grade. Students receive one-on-one, child-directed time with a guidance assistant in a carefully arranged and lovingly maintained playroom. Children have full access to a variety of toys, arts and craft supplies, and games . Individual sessions are 30 minutes in length once weekly for approximately 8 sessions.

Special Friends Program Goals:

  • To foster resiliency and positive self-concept
  • To develop a sense of belonging at school
  • To help increase academic participation/progress

Why Play?

Although it may not be readily apparent that play contributes to a child’s academic success and overall well-being, it does! Research (and our own observations) have long demonstrated young children’s gains associated with play. Oftentimes we see it with just one semester of participation! While we joke about the special kind of magic that Special Friends creates, there is research that supports the magic we see, including the following:

  • Cognitive/Academic Gains: creativity, abstract thinking, imagination, problem solving, mastering new concepts
  • Emotional Gains: Self confidence, self-esteem, anxiety/stress reduction, working problems out through play, connection to trusted adult
  • Social Gains: Cooperation, perspective-taking, sharing, empathy, turn-taking
  • Behavioral Gains: Impulse control, focus, persistence

Who is referred?

The Special Friends program is for children who may find adjustment to school a challenge. Some children become shy/withdrawn; others may be overly active in the classroom, have difficulty with focus, or may be challenged with academics and are beginning to lose confidence in their abilities as a result. In addition, family changes including separation, divorce, death, a new sibling, a school transfer, or parental job changes can create stress for a child at school.

This program is based on a prevention model in that it seeks to serve students who demonstrate mild to moderate adjustment challenges in hopes that early difficulties will be addressed before they become potentially more significant later on. Students may be referred to Special Friends by anyone in the community (including family), but are primarily referred by their teachers. In fact, Special Friends meets with all TK through fifth grade teachers at the beginning of each school year. Teachers are consulted throughout the year for continuing needs.

About the Special Friends Guidance Assistants

The Special Friends Guidance Assistant is a specifically trained and supervised adult who demonstrates personal maturity as well as experience with and the innate ability to relate well to children. All of our Special Friends have been in their role for more than seven years. In fact, one guidance assistant began in 1989 with the program! They genuinely love and have a heart for what they do and are a tremendously talented cohort. They each participate in bi-monthly group trainings with the coordinator.