Peer Mentors – A Key to Special Education Success

January 10, 2016 | By More

By Megan Howell, Imago Dei School Principal

Students in special education programs often lack the academic, social or communication skills necessary to successfully participate in school and benefit from the intentional provision of a general education peer mentor. Peer mentors can provide support for special education students in many areas, such as academics, sports and extra curricular activities, as well as helping them navigate the often challenging, less structured terrain of brunch and lunchtime. Many times a student with learning or developmental challenges could participate successfully in a general education class if they were paired with a peer mentor to assist them with understanding expectations, pacing with class activities and organizing their work. In addition to being a support for the special education student, a peer mentor can serve to support the general education teacher as well as they provide 1:1 assistance to the student with challenges.

An often-unanticipated benefit is that peer mentoring for students with physical and/or developmental challenges has been shown to benefit the social-cognitive growth of the general education peer mentor. Parents of mainstream students who urge their children to participate in peer buddy or mentoring programs may hope these experiences lead to a greater understanding of individuals who struggle with learning, communicating, or socializing, and are gratified to discover a tremendous growth in maturity and leadership. Peer mentors work closely with a population of students that they might not otherwise have the opportunity to get to know. Understanding the world through the eyes of a student that has challenges helps the peer mentor to develop a deeper sense of compassion and a broader understanding of people, while at the same time the student is developing a greater sense of competence. Often students who are struggling academically or socially, but are given an opportunity to serve as a peer mentor, will make great strides in study skills and learning, and will successfully apply the social skills they practice in the peer buddy program. This can provide opportunities for leadership and success that can be bridged into other areas of a students’ life, which makes a peer mentor program a win-win opportunity. A peer mentor program facilitates the establishment of long lasting relationships and improved academic achievement for both groups of students.

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