local: community education magazine


Building a strong, safe school family involves reaching across the wide expanse of experiences within our diverse communities. The Big Brother program is one of several mentorship opportunities available to students throughout the district. Peer 2 Peer is just one more.

Peer 2 Peer

Peer to Peer is an elective course at Ferndale High School that was implemented in January of 2014 by FHS teachers Nicole Kata and Sarah Struzik (now Director of Special Education). The program is open to all grade levels. In Peer to Peer, general education students partner with a student with special needs for the semester (or longer), and work with them one hour per day. Peer to Peer students form a bond with their partner, working with them throughout the hour on job skills, life skills, exercise, academic skills, and most importantly, socialization skills. They are also exposed to the different types of disability, learning about each disability through scholarly articles and online modules. Peer to Peer students journal about their experience, learn basic sign language to facilitate communication, attend case conferences to create cohesiveness among peers for the students with special needs, and attend community-based learning experiences with their partner. The students present a project of their choosing that chronicles their experience throughout the semester as well as a reflective essay for their final grade.

Peer to Peer teaches students compassion, patience, gratitude, kindness, thoughtfulness and fosters a sense of community. Students who have never interacted with a student with special needs have a greater respect for their partners, noting their effort,  level of happiness, and persistence in the face of struggles. The Peer to Peer students report feeling changed as a person upon completing the course and empowered to help students with disabilities outside of the classroom and in the community.

The school culture at FHS has changed as a whole thanks to Peer to Peer. Our students with special needs were isolated before, only interacting with each other and staff. They have real friends now, have lunch mates, are invited out to school and non-school events, and feel engaged socially like members of their school community. The high school students are often surpised by how capable, fun, loving, and interesting the special needs students are, and are bringing in friends from other classes and social circles to meet their partners. It’s changed how our school views our special needs students and has changed the view of inclusion we formerly held.

2016 Promising Practices Award Winner

Peer to Peer was honored by Character.org when it was selected to receive a 2016 Promising Practices award. Promising Practices recognizes schools, districts, and youth-serving organizations from across the United States, as well as from Canada, China, Colombia, and Mexico. “These great ideas really highlight the creative efforts of amazing teachers all across America --- and the world,” said Dr. Dave Keller, Program Director. “It’s great to recognize what’s going well in the classroom. These practices represent practical, effective ways to develop empathy, enhance conflict resolution skills, and inspire good citizenship.” The winning practices often include activities that build community – within the school and beyond, creative ways to integrate character and academic subjects, effective strategies for developing student leadership, and unique anti-bullying programs.