Peer Partners: Building a Community

Peer Partners working with a collaborative student.

Peer Partners working with a collaborative student.

Gigi Rhind, Staff Writer

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A collaborative student having fun with a computer.

In Peer Partners, an 8th-grade elective class offered at Trottier Middle School,  we work with students from the collaborative program who can’t join us in our normal schedule. According to Mrs. Styfe, the collaborative classroom lead teacher, the collaborative program started at Trottier in 2006. In 2007, a couple of student volunteers started to go into the class to help. Over time, volunteering in the collaborative program turned into an 8th-grade elective class. The collaborative program is a great opportunity to learn about students with disabilities and create new friendships.

I decided to join the Peer Partners class after participating in a special needs basketball program called Challenger Basketball.  During this basketball program, I realized how much I like working with these kids. I also realized they are not different from me. They enjoy hanging out with their friends, playing sports, and going to school. Now, I attend the Peer Partners class on Tuesday afternoons, and I work in the collaborative classroom with the students.  There are three other girls in the elective with me. On a normal day, we will read a short story and then do a craft that goes with the book. The best thing about these activities is seeing the kids smile and laugh during the projects.

Throughout the holiday season, we made Thanksgiving cards, a menorah, a Christmas wreath, and a kinara, a candle holder used during Kwanzaa. There are many ways we help the students participate when making the crafts. There are eight kids in the collaborative class. All of them use a wheelchair, and they cannot talk.  However, the teachers use different techniques to teach them. For example, one of the girls in the class has an iPad that she can use to communicate using her eyes.

During a typical academic day, collaborative students learn math, science, and writing by using symbols. They do adapted reading and learn communication by using switches and eyesight. They also learn life skills, such as feeding and brushing their teeth, so it’s easier when they go to the dentist, according to Mrs. Styffe.

“The kids make friendships with their peers,” Styffe said. There have been peer partners in the class that made such a tight bond with one of the students that they hang out together and go to high school sports games together. It helps the volunteers learn patience, and they learn about the disabilities that people have, according to Mrs. Styffe.

This class has been my favorite part of the year so far. The kids in the class are always in a good mood. While doing the crafts, the kids in collaborative can choose what colors they want to use. This class makes kids appreciate what they have and what they are able to do. It also changes one’s view on kids with disabilities. The kids smile and laugh, just like everyone else. If you are interested in taking the class in eighth grade, you can sign up for it when you get the elective sheet. “It helps the whole school feel like a community,” Mrs. Styffe said.