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April 28, 2021

The “buddy system” has gained traction in classrooms, extracurricular activities and dedicated organizations through the last decade. As your 21st CCLC program begins, at last, to return to an in-person format, you may consider incorporating structures that range from casual buddy pairing to formal peer mentoring as a way to embrace full inclusion of students with disabilities. Borrowing from tools in Y4Y’s new course, Including Students With Disabilities, explore how the buddy system benefits all.

Who Makes a Good Buddy?

  • Student leaders in your program: that young lady the other girls watch and copy, or that young man who always seems to have a group of kids gathered around him. You recognize natural leadership a mile away, and that gift gives young people the confidence to be gracious toward a peer with a disability.
  • Anyone who demonstrates compassion: that student who notices and speaks up when anyone gets left out or left behind.
  • Young people who love teaching others: whether it’s because they like to “be the boss” or they just like to be helpful. You can help students positively channel those inclinations.
  • Academic superstars: your highest-achieving students may or may not be your most outgoing, but they’re always up for a challenge and understand that schoolwork isn’t easy for everyone.

What Is Peer Mentoring?

  • Fostering friendship. “Assigning” friends doesn’t have to feel as forced as you may believe. Just as icebreakers show us, people inherently want to be friendly toward one another. Often they just need some structured way to bridge any social awkwardness.
  • Offering support. Make your peer mentoring program what you need it to be. Will students support each other academically? Socially? Assess these needs with the Environmental Checklist from Y4Y’s Including Students With Disabilities course or use the Capturing Social and Emotional Learning Program Needs Assessment.

Where Do I Start?

  • Once you’ve established your program’s needs, bring in stakeholders like special education teachers and parents of students with disabilities to define your buddy program. Y4Y’s Building an Inclusive Environment by Roles tool can help.
  • Offer student training. Being any kind of mentor demands training, even if it’s just to establish a strong understanding of responsibilities and boundaries. Refer to the Y4Y tool on Socially Responsible Language.
  • Align strengths. Are you seeking to pair a student with a disability whose primary goal in your program is to make friends? Place her with that natural leader. Does your student with memory deficits just need a little patience with instructions and reminders? Pair him with that old soul in your program who never gets ruffled.

Who Benefits?

  • EVERYONE! It isn’t just students with disabilities whose lives are enriched through the buddy system. Peer mentors develop skills in forming friendships, building compassion and preparing for leadership. Most of all, the climate and culture of your program will reflect the equity and celebration of individuality you want it to.

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