Effectively Creating New Roles for Para-professionals (Para-educators)
Peer buddies also play an important role in making sure that students with disabilities are not excluded from their classmates because of their need for support. In the past, sole reliance on para-professionals or teaching assistants to work with students with disabilities in the general education classroom sometimes made it difficult for students with disabilities to interact with the other students in the class and to develop a sense of self-determination (that is, taking ownership of their own learning). In peer buddy programs, para-professionals still play a very important part in the successful education of students with moderate and severe disabilities. However, para-professionals often take more of a coaching and monitoring role, or become a resource for the whole class, in peer buddy programs. This coaching and monitoring role allows the student with a disability to interact more closely with his or her classmates, and especially with his or her peer buddy.
The key goal in the Peer Buddy Program is to form relationships that support one another. As you may know, students with disabilities may often feel isolated from peers. This isolation can be magnified even more if a para-professional has been assigned just to work with that student alone. Para-professionals and other kinds of student assistance that may be “out of the ordinary”, such as certain types of adaptive equipment, may prove to be distracting to other students and can fuel that sense of isolation. These additional types of assistance, though they may be absolutely necessary, serve to accentuate differences between students. For these reasons and many more, it is so important for students with disabilities to feel as though they are accepted, that they truly belong with their peers, and that they really are a part of the class! Peer Buddy Programs bring students together to work through some of the barriers that exist and to form meaningful relationships with one another.
Para-professionals or para-educators are absolutely key to this success – as you implement a peer buddy program, please consider the unique role that para-educators can play in this process!