Buddy-Building Programs for Special Education

Boy in Wheelchair talks to friend in a school hallway

Despite being mainstreamed, many students with disabilities feel excluded from their school communities. In response, some schools have developed peer-buddy programs that aim to create more inclusive environments.

Peer-to-peer buddy programs match special education students with serious disabilities with general education students for in-school and after-school activities. In an interview with Brookes Publishing, Carolyn Hughes, co-author with Erik W. Carter of  “Peer Buddy Programs for Successful Secondary School Inclusion” said, “We think of peer-buddy programs as a win-win situation for all students involved—those with and without disabilities.” Would you like to see a peer-buddy program in your school? Here are some steps to get the ball rolling:

 Do your research
Gather information about peer-buddy programs that have data to support their success. This will help you to determine what you would like your program to look like and will also help you when you approach your school’s administrative staff with the idea. For example, on its website, The Peer Buddy Program cites 10 studies that have “documented the important contributions that peer support interventions, such as peer buddy programs, can make to improving students’ interactions and friendships with their classmates.”

 Get buy-in from administration, faculty and staff
In order to build a successful program, it’s essential that all members of your school administration, faculty and staff understand what’s being proposed and are willing to participate in whatever way necessary. Come prepared with research data and an outline of what the program might look like. Hughes and Carter’s book which provides a 7-step process for designing a peer-buddy program may help you to create a strong case for starting a program at your own school.

Design your program
Determine whether your program will provide general education students who participate with credits or other incentives; Consider creating a course within your general education program where peer buddies can receive orientation and ongoing training in how best to approach their relationships with special education peers; Decide how much time can be allotted to program activities and 1:1 meetings; Come up with a list of suggested activities and a curriculum that peer buddies should follow; Create an orientation curriculum with ice breakers and tips on building a trusting relationship between peer buddies.

 Develop a recruitment strategy
Determine who will qualify for the program: Is there a minimum grade-point average to qualify? Are their particular qualities that a peer buddy must possess? Are a personal interview and references necessary? Publicize your program in school newsletters, assemblies and class presentations.

Evaluate on a regular basis
Make sure to gather feedback from all students and faculty involved in the buddy program regularly. This can take the form of one-on-one meetings between peer-buddies and faculty leaders; questionnaires that are completed at agreed upon intervals; and peer buddy group where general education buddies can share experiences and receive support from their fellows.