Peer To Peer Proves Best!

November 10, 2016 | By More

By Megan Howell, Imago Dei School Principal

When we launched the Peer Mentor program at Trinity Classical Academy to serve special needs students in our Imago Dei school (Imago Dei is Latin for “image of God”), we could not have imagined the positive ripple effect it would have on our school culture at large.  This integrated program has advanced the students’ ability to connect successfully and meaningfully with their peers.  Additionally, it has set a school-wide standard for loving inclusion and sacrificial service.


Educators and families may underestimate the loneliness and isolation that many students experience throughout their educational lives, particularly special education students. Peer mentor programs allow students to make meaningful connections and practice appropriate social interactions with one another as well as the students who become their mentors. Learning to relate in authentic ways, enjoying social events and outings that are set up for the enjoyment of all participants, and taking time to consider what constitutes friendship and loyalty are all benefits of a peer mentor program that includes students with special needs. 


Research indicates that other support models for students with special needs are not as effective as the peer-to-peer support model. Many social skills groups have been determined ineffective or unsuccessful because social skills need to be taught in natural contexts, such as the classroom itself.  Programs that rely heavily on the assistance of paraprofessionals or special education teachers have been shown to hinder independence and increase isolation because students become dependent on their teachers and have little opportunity to manage on their own and engage successfully with their peers (Barnitt, 2005).


Behind the successful relationships fostered through the Peer Mentor program at Trinity is the hard work and vision of a very talented and committed teacher.  Michelle Hanson (AKA Mama Bear), a visionary special educator with a unique blend of academic, therapeutic and social thinking training and experience, oversees the Imago Dei Peer Mentor program. Becoming part of the Peer Mentor program is a high honor at Trinity and those wishing to become a mentor go through a rigorous process  including a thorough application with faculty recommendations, followed by an extensive interview. Mrs. Hanson then picks those highly qualified high school students for this competitive role.  Following selection, the peer mentors attend two half-day training sessions focused on the principals of social thinking and Applied Behavior Analysis.   “The peer mentors have shown exceptional skill and devotion in supporting our students.  It’s wonderful to see both peer mentors and Imago Dei students flourish as a result of their relationship”, says Mrs. Hanson.

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