Peer-to-Peer program drawing positive results

Manistee Middle/High School students wear blue shirts to celebrate the Peer-to-Peer program and Autism Awareness Month.

Manistee Middle/High School students wear blue shirts to celebrate the Peer-to-Peer program and Autism Awareness Month.

MANISTEE — When Manistee Intermediate School District Autism consultant specialist Micheal Amor approached officials at the Manistee Area Public Schools with the Peer-to-Peer Program, she knew it was something with a proven track record of success.
However, what makes the program work is having people and students buy into it and believe in what it has to offer. The program focuses around pairing up mainstream students with autistic ones to provide assistance in daily functions in school.
Manistee High School principal Julia Raddatz said the results have been nothing short of amazing. She pointed out to members of the board of education last week how it is a benefit to all students.
“I really wanted to recognize the works of our students on the Peer-to-Peer program because it is very personal and exciting in our school,” she said.
Amor said that middle school physical education teacher Mike Tilmann is handling the coordinating of the Peer-to-Peer program at MAPS. Tilmann’s efforts in making the program a success were cited by Amor.
“The goal of the program is to increase opportunities for our students with autism through the general education curriculum,” she said. “We do this by integrating them into the general education setting.”
Amor said that they generally look for students that are described as “best models” to pair up with the autistic students.
“Those students we look to pair up with them ‘get’ the academics, social, curriculum and the stuff that goes on in the middle and high school,” she said. “So what this program does is link our typical students with those that have autism to help them navigate the school setting. It promotes independence and socialization for our kids with autism and the great thing about this program is it has reciprocal benefits for our general ed kids who are the link.”
She said that studies have shown that those students paired with autistic ones have better skills in organization, responsibility, problem solving and increased attendance.
“It is really a win-win for everyone,” she said.
Tilmann serves as link coach and it is his responsibility to match up students that he feels will fit the program.
“Last spring I was asked to look into a training for the Peer-to-Peer program,” he said. “Following that training program I talked with other faculty members and asked if there were students they knew who communicated well and would be a good fit for this program.”
Tilmann said he met with the students individually to talk about the program.
“Since then it has grown into a whole school community,” he said. “April is Autism Awareness Month and we sent out an announcement and email to the students about wearing blue shirts on April 17 for a group picture to show their support.”
It was something that Tillmann didn’t really know what type of response he would get from the student body. What transpired amazed him.
“People just started pouring in and I was touched by the response,” he said. “What I found is the awareness portion of Autism and the link between general education students and those with ASD to help them progress through high school is well known in our school.
Students taking part in the program said that Peer-to-Peer is not something that is just limited to school. They spend time with the students beyond the hallways and classrooms and it gives the ASD students a sense of security and it makes them feel good.
Tillmann said he feels the success of the program will continue to grow.
“We look forward to continuing this path of Peer-to-Peer in the upcoming years,” he said.
MAPS Superintendent John Chandler said that the program is an outstanding one. He thanked Amor, Tillmann for introducing it at MAPS. He also praised the efforts of the students taking part in it.
“I appreciate what you all do as I know you are all busy,” he said. “The things you do will come back to you and multiply.”
School officials hope to grow the program over the next several years.

 

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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