The Power Of Peers

Making Classrooms Inclusive

Think about your own classes. Specifically, think about one of your subject area classes (e.g., math, science, Spanish, etc.). Complete the chart below by thinking of activities in which your class usually participates and ways that you might provide support to another student during each of those activities. Use what you know now to think of strategies and think outside of the box! One example has already been given for you.


Class (Subject):

Typical activities in your class

Ways you could provide support during that activity
1.  Small group work Encourage your peer buddy to interact with the other group members and share his/her ideas









Two pioneers in the field of Peer Buddies are Carolyn Hughes and Erik Carter. In their books, Success for All Students: Promoting Inclusion in Secondary Schools through Peer Buddy Program and Peer Buddy Programs for Successful Secondary School Inclusion, the emerging power of Peer Buddies is discussed. It is this power that is reflected in the opening vignette above!
The key goal in the Peer Buddy Program is to form relationships. As you may know, students with disabilities may often feel isolated from peers. This isolation can be magnified even more if a paraprofessional has been assigned to the class just to work with that student alone. Paraprofessionals 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 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 and that they belong with their peers and that they 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.
 Typically, peers are paired with students with disabilities in the classroom and serve as “buddies” who are there to provide support with school work (working in small groups, responding to questions, summarizing key ideas, etc.), offer advice, and just be a friend. The peer buddy is usually a student like you who is interested in providing support, who understands the requirements of the classroom, is comfortable with the subject matter, and would like to bring the student with a disability into his or her circle of friends. The benefits of Peer Buddy Programs are valuable for all students involved. The biggest benefits gained from the Peer Buddy Programs are the building of friendships and relationships, development of social skills, positive academic outcomes, and developing a more positive outlook on life (Carter & Hughes, 2008).
In the past, students with significant disabilities may have been provided with a one-on-one paraprofessional to assist in many aspects of their schooling. While the support given by a paraprofessional may be extremely helpful (and the presence of the paraprofessional may be necessary for both the class and that student), one-to-one paraprofessional assistance can unintentionally create hurdles for students with disabilities when trying to build friendships with peers if the paraprofessional is always working with just that student. The ideal role for a paraprofessional (providing support to students as needed) may look more like the situation described in the opening vignette. Of course, teachers and paraprofessionals both want students with disabilities to have friendships with their peers and to successfully build relationships.
*Reflection* Look at what you have written in your activity above and perhaps share your thoughts with another peer buddy—it is precisely your ideas that are essential for a successful Peer Buddy Program! While inclusion in the classroom is necessary (and it is the first step), being a part of the group is very important in other places as well. For example, are there times during the day in which you could introduce the student with a disability to your other friends? Consider lunch time, after school, or during extracurricular activities. Think about the things that you look forward to each day—the important parts of school that do not take place necessarily in the classroom! Sometimes it is the little things that really matter, the things that start small. You will find that the relationships built from Peer Buddy Programs can be fulfilling and enduring. And they can make a real difference!