During Parcells Middle School’s peer-to-peer program class, Allison Lackner, Lauren Sickmiller, Natalie Barstys, Caitlin Mayernik and Alex Dean teach Olivia Grobbel sign language. The students spelled “Olivia.” photo by Renee Landuyt.
November 22, 2012On her way to the music room, a Parcells Middle School seventh grader passed a special needs student being assisted down the hallway. “Hi,” she said cheerfully, calling the student by name.
Her greeting elicited a look of excitement, then a quick smile from the special needs student. “Hi,” the student responded, still brimming ear-to-ear. Similar greetings have occurred in hallways, cafeterias and classrooms throughout Parcells this year, attributed, in part, to the school’s new peer-to-peer program.
“To see the gen ed kids greet them in the hallway in social situations is wonderful,” said Lauren Brown, special education teacher who, along with Gina McEveney, another special education teacher, started the program at Parcells. “At lunch, the special ed kids have some of their peer-to-peer kids that they sit with. When the bell rings, sometimes a special ed student will grab a gen ed student and they’ll walk down the hall.”
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The program, a once-weekly class, connects general education students with students with special needs. It helps to promote socialization and confidence-building between and within students from both groups, Brown said.
Already, Brown has noticed some general education students taking on leadership roles and establishing immediate connections with others, as well as students with special needs, those normally verbally uncommunicative, making major strides in talking, even if it’s a simple “hi” or “bye.”
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“One student,” Brown said, “he doesn’t talk very much at all. He has a little buddy over here, Alcide, and he said, ‘Bye, Alcide.’ He only said, ‘Bye, Brown,’ once. It’s a big thing. It’s just those kinds of things we’re trying to promote.”
Another such connection, Brown said, exists between seventh grader Alex Dean and her buddy, Olivia Grobbel, a student with Down Syndrome. Dean, who wants to be a special education teacher, led Grobbel in The Arc walk last year and practices sign language and other communication skills every Tuesday morning during the class.
“I feel like it’s a lot nicer because now in the hallways and stuff you say ‘hi’ to the special ed kids and you know their names,” Dean said.
“Before, you didn’t really know their names or anything about them really. It’s an inclusion thing, so it’s nice they decided to give that a try. I think it’s working really well.”
As soon as next year, Brown hopes to expand the program, involving more students and organizing get-togethers beyond the typical Tuesday mornings.
“We’re hoping to expand it to during lunch, maybe in the community,” Brown said. “We did an Arc walk and won biggest team, had the most donations and walkers at the walk. You can really tell that they enjoy it.”