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School Becomes Model for How Peer Groups Can Help Students in Special Ed

South View Middle School’s Peer Insights program pairs students in special education with their general-education peers, opening lines of connection that extend throughout the school day — and beyond. The middle schoolers sit side by side in the classroom and the lunch table, come together for special events like a dance marathon or the homecoming parade, and hang out on the weekend.

Little by little, the program is transforming the culture of the school — and the way individual students think about themselves, their peers and the bigger world outside of South View. It’s become one of the most in-demand activities for students across the school, and has captured the attention of other school districts and recognition from Special Olympics Minnesota. And more than a few students are now imagining careers as special education teachers or classroom paraprofessionals.

The program started nearly a decade ago, with an idea from special education teacher Jessica Cherne and a handful of middle schoolers interested in spending time in special education classrooms. It didn’t take long for Peer Insights to become a full-fledged leadership program at South View, attracting dozens of eager participants who must fill out applications and sit for an interview to land a spot. This year, about 80 general-education students were picked as Peer Insights student leaders. They work with two dozen students in special education.

Before starting with Peer Insights, all the selected students receive training to broaden their understanding of people with disabilities and to learn more about different communication styles — including those of students who must use high-tech communication devices, often mounted to a wheelchair. Once they’re ready to go, many of the general-education students spend the first 20 minutes of their day with Aspire students in the school’s special education center.

They return in smaller groups throughout the day when they have free periods to help any students who need additional assistance keeping focused or with reading or writing lessons.

Emily Heckmann, a paraprofessional who works with students in special education, said she’s often amazed at how quickly the Peer Insights students can pick up on cues and become a helpful presence in the classroom.

“They learn really fast,” she said. “Some of these kids, you’d never expect that they’d be so great and patient and understanding and willing to jump in and help with anything.”

Excerpted from “School Becomes Model for How Peer Groups Can Help Students in Special Ed” in Disability Scoop. Read the full article.

Source: Disability Scoop | School Becomes Model for How Peer Groups Can Help Students in Special Ed, https://www.disabilityscoop.com/2019/11/05/school-model-peer-groups-help-special-ed/27407 | © 2008-2019 Disability Scoop, LLC

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