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" We were very fortunate to have a resource, like CARD, to facilitate implementing a peers program. CARD assisted with all phases of the program, from training to organizing the play groups. Teachers, administrators, and parents appreciated CARD'S input." -Sue Beane

 

In the fall of 1997, when 6 year old Jonathan Semer transitioned to his new school Cypress Elementary, so did his CARD-USF supports. One of Jonathan's primary objectives, as identified by his transition team, was increased exposure and opportunities with general education students as a means to promote further social skill development. As CARD, school personnel and Jonathan's mother began to develop a plan to meet this objective, Jonathan's teachers highlighted a similar need for all the students in their varying exceptionalities classes. The principal, Sharyn Disabato agreed increasing such integrated social opportunities would not only benefit the special education students, but their general education peers as well. This began a year long buddy program that was developed and modified over a few months between Jonathan's teachers, Laurie Cirigliano, and Sue Beane, and CARD-USF staff Janine Peck, with support and collaboration from administration and the general education first grade teachers.

The buddy program was developed by pairing each student who has special needs with general education first graders from three different classrooms. Three times a week for approximately a half an hour each, the first graders came to Ms. Cirigliano and Ms. Beane's class to engage in a fun, social activity with their buddy. The goal was to increase social interactions and to develop positive peer relations that would transcend to other environments in and out of school. The first graders were matched to their buddies through teacher identification of similar interests. As the pairs became more comfortable, new buddy relations were established between other pairings. As the program began to become established, group activities were incorporated once a week, in which all the students would do an activity together (i.e., soccer game, movie and popcorn). As friendships and familiarity with each other developed, group activities began to occur in other settings, such as the first grade pods during curriculum projects. After each activity (or get together) with their buddy, there was a debriefing for each first grader during which they would indicate in writing or verbally, their enjoyment of the activity, their perception of their buddy's enjoyment and suggestions for subsequent interactions. This feedback was instrumental in ensuring the longevity and generalization of the program.

The collaboration between CARD, school administration, general education and special education teachers resulted in increased opportunities for the special needs students and their nondisabled peers to interact and develop social relationships that not only benefited Jonathan and his classmates, but all the children involved. As Ms. Beane explains, "I enjoyed watching our students develop friendships with children from the basic education classes. The success of this program was exemplified when my students were consistently greeted in the hall or invited to join in on the playground. The other students in the school no longer viewed my children as 'different," but acknowledged them as friends. This initiative did require planning and organization, but the outcome was well worth the investment."

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