The Power of Peer Buddies – Introductory Module
Imagine walking into a high school classroom in a school that you are visiting for the day. You look around and notice that all of the students are engaged in the upcoming activity that the teacher is describing. Everyone is paying attention and listening to the directions that they will need to follow once the teacher is finished speaking. You look toward one side of the classroom and notice one girl has an adult at her side who is taking notes for her. There is also a boy nearby who is using an assistive technology device to ask a question of the teacher.
Eventually, the teacher gives the students free time to work on the assigned project and discuss details with each other. As you walk around the lively classroom, you see that all students are participating and are engaged. While the adult you saw previously taking notes is nearby, she is not guiding the conversation for the student she was helping. Instead, that student’s classmates are asking questions of her and working with her to get ideas for the project. The student with the assistive technology screen is also using the technology to voice his opinions while his supportive classmates listen and give feedback.
In this classroom, every student has a voice. Every student has the opportunity to be involved in the classroom activities and is valued as a member of the classroom. Even though a paraprofessional (a teacher assistant who is responsible for providing additional support to students with disabilities) is present to assist a student in some aspects of the classroom, she is not overbearing and does not interfere with the student’s peer communications. The student with the communication board is not “put down” or ridiculed by classmates; he is respected as an equal partner in the classroom. You leave the bustling classroom with a smile on your face. If a classroom like this exists here, why can’t similar classrooms emerge everywhere?
You may already be familiar with the concept of inclusion from previous modules. Inclusion simply means equal placement, equal access, and equal rights for all students within the classroom. The opening vignette is a good example of a classroom that is participating in effective inclusive educational practices. Yet along with the idea of inclusion also comes the need for a social network among peers within the classroom. This network should involve students with disabilities as well as students without disabilities. One program that has been established to create social bonds between students with disabilities and their peers is called the Peer Buddy Program, and that is where your involvement is so important!