Book Review: Peer Buddy Programs

Peer Buddy Programs

Peer Buddy Programs for Successful Secondary School Inclusion

By Carolyn Hughes and Erik W. Carter; 199 pages.

In a nutshell: Getting special-education students interacting with regular-education peers involves more than dropping the former into the latter's classroom. The authors share a program that pairs members of each group for academic and social assistance. It's really a guide for teachers, but there's enough information for parents to get the ball rolling.

About the Star Rating.

Why You Might Like It

  • Offers an innovative approach to promoting inclusion and peer friendship
  • Outlines specific steps for getting a program started and maintaining it
  • Text is upbeat and easy to read
  • Includes sample forms and promotional materials
  • Features stories from successful programs for inspiration

Why You Might Not

  • The pages are full of so many different elements that they seem cluttered
  • Specific program of offering credits for peer assistance may be hard for parents to facilitate
  • Risk of schools leaning too heavily on student tutoring and not providing professional services
  • Some parents may be uncomfortable with their child being a credit-earning project for a classmate

Book Review

I've been hoping to get some sort of peer buddy group going at my kids' high school ever since my son started there this fall. I had envisioned something informal -- getting together after school or during lunch for a little fun and friendship -- but this book by two educators who started such a program in Nashville takes it in directions I'd never have thought of.

The basis of their program is a social-learning course that regular-education students can enroll in for a credit or two. These students would then become something between a friend and a paraprofessional for special-education classmates, offering social-skills practice, academic tutoring, informal assistance, and extracurricular companionship.

Buddies would be supervised by teachers and have their own club on the side for receiving training and sharing experiences.

Testimonials throughout the book offer praise from participants, and stories of children with special needs doing great things at the instigation of their regular-education peers. There's sort of a "magical mainstream" feeling to it -- students who'd never talk in their self-contained classrooms suddenly double their vocabularies when some general-ed kid gives them the time of day! -- but the enthusiasm seems genuine, and the step-by-step approach to starting a program makes it easy to envision how things would work.

Part of me worries that schools would use these peer helpers as an excuse to switch from underpaid paraprofessionals to free untrained student labor. There seems to me a real risk of some special-education students being under-served. On the other hand, I like the idea of empowering kids to make inclusion work in their classrooms, and a buddy program like this makes me more optimistic about having my son in an inclusion class than I've felt before.

That's pretty impressive right there.

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