Metropolitan Nashville Peer Buddy Program
Carolyn Hughes, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Special Education
John F. Kennedy Center Investigator
Box 328 Peabody College
Nashville, TN 37203
The Peer Buddy Project mission is to: (1) improve post-school outcomes for students with severe disabilities by increasing their inclusion and acceptance into the mainstream of high school life; (2) to contribute to the knowledge base regarding best practice for inclusion of students with severe disabilities in their communities; and (3) disseminate findings and materials nationally for the benefit of groups wishing to replicate the Peer Buddy Model.
Organization Type: University
Geographical Area: Metropolitan Area, County, Region, State or Commonwealth, National
Primary Setting: High School, Community-based job training sites
Funding: External funding source - Office of Special Education - Project # H158Q600004, TN Developmental Disabilities Council
Target Population: Secondary education students with and without disabilities, Teachers of faculty, Secondary education, Parents
Disability Areas: Hearing impairment, Mental retardation (Mild, Moderate, Severe), Orthopedic impairment, Multi-disabled, Severe emotional disturbance/emotional disability/behavior disorder, Specific learning disability, Speech impairment, Visual impairment, Autism, Traumatic brain injury, Epilepsy
NTA Framework Categories
The Peer Buddy project is designed to provide the resource and support students with disabilities need to become active participants in high school life. Active participation in the mainstream educational experience gives these students opportunities to develop social skills they will need for success in all areas of their adult life.
The cornerstone of the Peer Buddy project is an elective credit course offered in all 11 comprehensive high schools within the Metropolitan Nashville public school district. The course teaches typical education students about various types of disabilities and learning problems, instructional and motivational techniques, and ideas on how to help their peers with severe disabilities become integrated into high school life. As a part of the course, these students (Peer Buddies) spend at least one period each day with students with severe disabilities (partners). They may spend their time working on classroom assignments, attending a regular education class together, eating lunch, joining a school club, or just hanging out.
Peer Buddies function as positive role models and provide the support their partners need in order to participate in curricular and extracurricular activities within their school and communities.
Peer Buddy staff from Vanderbilt University provide technical support to the students and teachers at the comprehensive high schools within the Metro Nashville district. They facilitate collaboration among vocational, regular, and special education teachers, parents, and students. They also conduct research on inclusion and transition practices, and disseminate this information through research reports to educational journals and presentations to interested groups and organizations across the country. Materials developed through implementation of the Peer Buddy Project in Nashville are made available to individuals interested in replicating the program in other areas of the country.
Evidence of Success
The Metropolitan Nashville Peer Buddy Program uses peer tutoring to support inclusion on the high school level. By regularly interacting with each other in and out of class, students with and without severe disabilities are building friendships and experiencing many new activities together, and, in doing so, they are learning new social interaction skills. Some of these changes are best described by those participating in the program. Marilee Dye, a teacher of students with severe disabilities at one high school, describes the impact of the program in her classroom.
"My classroom is made up of the entire spectrum of students with severe disabilities: students with multiple disabilities, mental retardation, communication deficits, sensory impairments, and autism. Peer tutors from the Peer Buddy Program have been effective with all of these students. In my classroom, peer buddies perform a wide variety of activities. But the main thing they do is develop a friendship with the student to whom they are assigned."
"This year I have had a student in my class who has severe autism. When Kim first came into my room, she appeared to have no interest in others and only initiated interactions when she wanted to eat or go to the restroom. Then Kim developed a friendship with her peer buddy, Corie Byers. Now she watches the door for Corie everyday. When they are together, Kim makes eye contact with her buddy frequently, laughs often, and even initiates conversation. We never saw her do these behaviors before. Kim also increased her vocal repertoire from four words to eleven words. We have been truly amazed with the difference peer buddies have made in the lives of our students."
The peer buddies also report an increase in disability awareness, improved communication skills, growth in understanding of themselves and others, appreciating individual differences, and making new friends. (Corie Byers, the peer buddy described by Marilee Dye tells her own story of her interactions with her special education partner Kim).
"Hello, Im Corie and I am a senior at McGavock High School. I heard about the Peer Buddy Program from my guidance counselor. I was kind of interested in it because I had been a peer tutor in 7th and 8th grade and I wondered how I could get into it again.
"I learned a lot about different people and different aspects of handicaps. I really like just sitting in the classroom and hanging out with everybody. That was my favorite part."
"My second semester as a peer buddy I spent mostly with Kim in Ms. Dyes room. And that girl-whew! She was a handful. When I first got into the classroom, she would just sit there and either sleep all day or cry about something. Or kind of just wander around with her eyes and look and not do anything. After my first semester, I noticed how she wouldnt deal with anybody. She was just always by herself. So I would go over there and tickle her and all of a sudden, she just livened up! It was like someone had to just talk to her one time and she burst out with life. When I first started talking to her, she really didnt have many words that she could say. Mostly she just said "Milk" if she wanted milk, or if she had to go to the bathroom, she would tell us. That was about it. Then I got to talking to her and toward the end of the year, she developed more language and everything. We played games like hand-slap games and tickled each other. The bean bag chair was the best because she just loved that thing. Kim would just lay on it and wallow all over the floor and just laugh. It was so cool!"
"Well, thats Kim. Shes cool now."
Products: Peer Buddy Handbook A manual enrolled as Peer Buddies
Teachers Manual A guide for teachers implementing a Peer Buddy Program in their school
Breaking Ground Fall 1998 Newsletter of the TN Developmental Disabilities Council,
"Enlarging Ones Circle of Friends." Hughes, Carolyn and Guth, Carol.
Peabody Reflector Published by Peabody College of Vanderbilt University Winter 1996.
"Becoming Friends." Rosemergy, Jan.
"Inclusion on the High School Level: The Metropolitan Nashville Peer Buddy Program" Hughes, Guth, Presley, Dye & Byers In Press, TEACHING Exceptional Children
"Peers as Teachers of Social Interaction Skills: The Metropolitan Nashville Peer Buddy Program" Hughes et al. to be published in Exceptional Children. Heward (2000).
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