Peer Buddies: An Opportunity to Make a Difference

by Nancy Kirk, Principal of the M.G. Williams Intermediate School, Bridgewater, MA

nancy2Speech and Language Pathologists (SLP) assume many responsibilities within the school setting. Their duties include but are not limited to the evaluation and diagnosis of communication disorders, the evaluation and development of long and short term goals and determining and providing services for eligible students. These alone are very time consuming tasks especially when you consider the high caseload numbers many SLP’s service.

The Williams Intermediate School houses 792 students in grade 4-6. Barbara, our SLP, has been working with us since 2012 and began her career in 2001. Every year we host a Holiday Read where district staff and community members come in and read to each classroom, just prior to the Holiday break. Each person is asked to begin by telling the students about their jobs and how they became interested in that line of work.  Barbara did just that when she read to the 6th grade class she was assigned to in December of 2015.

After Barbara read her story, several students approached her about the work she did and asked if they could work with her and her students. Surprised by their interest, Barbara jumped at the opportunity and created the “Peer Buddies Program”. Prior to the students working in the program there were several requirements. The students needed to be in good academic standing, have a good attendance record, no discipline referrals and each student was required to write a paper explaining a specific communication disorder, with the treatments, assistive technologies used and possible interventions that would be effective in the classroom. Barbara felt it was important for the students to have a basis of information in order to make a connection with the group of students she was working with.

nnacy1Once the 6 students met the requirements, they were ready and excited to begin working with the students. With Barbara’s assistance the students developed mini-lessons that included, interviews, games, book clubs, scavenger hunts and functional food activities. Once per 5 day cycle, during Academic Support Block, these students reported to Barbara and were assigned 1 or 2 students to work with. It is important to note that the 6 student volunteers were working with 6 students from a sub-separate classroom, grades 4-6, with a wide range of disabilities. Barbara was able to model lessons and activities so that the volunteers had a better sense of how to conduct a “lesson”.

Peer Buddies has been a learning experience for everyone involved even for the students who passed by and saw their peers working with students from the sub-separate class. Barbara is an extraordinary SLP who has found many creative ways to work with students in the classroom as well as in small groups and one on one. The 6 role model students were inspired by the work they did, were proud of themselves and had an appreciation for and clear understanding of the struggles students with disabilities face. They learned very quickly the importance of being there for others, especially when the others wanted and needed so much from them. The students in the sub-separate class loved meeting with their buddies and talked about them incessantly in school and at home.

Barbara has created a community of learners within our large school community. She has been able to inspire students on her caseload and several who are not. This was not a planned initiative but was a spur of the moment idea that took hold. We talk about teachable moments all the time in education and if each one of us is able to grab on to that moment and create something that is inclusive of all students and fosters an environment that is accepting and nurturing of all, we can really make a difference.

Nancy.JPGNancy Kirk was the assistant principal of the Williams Middle School (5-8) in 2004 and became principal in 2007. In 2008 the district reorganized and Williams Middle School became the Williams Intermediate School (4-6) and at that time Nancy was appointed principal.  Having been accustomed to middle school students, grade 4 was new territory. However, it was an easy transition. This continues to be a great experience for Nancy and she loves the current arrangement. Born and raised in Connecticut, Nancy moved to Massachusetts in 2001. During her time at the Williams Nancy has experienced 5 moves, with students located in 3 different buildings, due to construction and grade reorganization. Those were hectic times but with an outstanding staff, great students and supportive parents they were able to settle in and become “A Caring, Cooperative and Respectful Community of Learners”.

Are you interested in sharing your ideas, insights and questions? If so, click here to sign up for a post. Julie Vincentsen, Principal of Ruggles Lane School, will reach out with specifics. Are you interested but nervous because you’ve never blogged before and don’t know where to begin? Don’t worry – as long as you know how to use Microsoft Word you will be up to this challenge. We write for our communities all the time – this just changes your audience. You probably could even take a current newsletter you’ve written and repurpose it for your colleagues.

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