Janneke is enjoying Grade 4 and relishing in the attention of her curious classmates, many of whom are both interested and hesitant to be alongside her. They are growing accustomed to her random hollers and her drool; they love to read to her, sit with her, push her, and help her learn. In fact, there’s a schedule of taking turns since the demand to be with Janneke is so high.
The same situation happened when Rachel joined her classmates three years ago. I did not take their desire to help for granted; as time passes, the gap between my kids and their peers widens, and their attention is slowly drawn elsewhere.
The power of the peer cannot be taken for granted. If we talk about creating accessible schools and inclusive education, it HAS to start with creating a culture of belonging among the kids and staff. You can have the most beautiful physically accessible building, but it will not be truly accessible unless the people inside are welcoming and accepting.
I do not underestimate the power of the peer. Jack, one of Janneke’s classmates, has somehow connected with Janneke through reading - and gotten her to point at animals as he reads. This is a brand new skill, and it is one that she doesn’t willingly do with too many people. I won’t pretend to understand why suddenly this has suddenly appeared with Jack, but I love it. It speaks to hope for what she might do with more time spent among her peers, more opportunity to try new things. I also love the affirmation from Jack (and the casual wiping-off of drool as he turns the page).
Looking for ideas on harnessing the power of the peer? Check out these links:
http://campsontracks.com/: I know, it sounds like camp - and it does involved the camp program, but it is also applicable and available for schools!
https://vkc.mc.vanderbilt.edu/assets/files/resources/psiPeermedstrategies.pdf: This includes work from a professor I deeply respect and appreciate, Dr. Erik Carter.
http://blog.brookespublishing.com/second-post-back-practical-tips-for-peer-supports/: easy resources for application from Maryland
https://clcnetwork.org/for-schools/standard/: Even if you aren’t in a faith community school, I think you’d appreciate the perspective and direction of this document. Click the link and download the document.
http://www.learningforallab.ca/peer-interactions/peer-supports/: a helpful resource from Alberta