Developing and Maintaining an Elementary Peer to Peer Program

The information and resources below are designed to assist school personnel in developing and maintaining an elementary Peer to Peer program. The examples and templates below are intended to give you ideas and a starting point. You should update them to reflect your district's program and needs. Many of these materials may not be necessary for the development of your program and depending on your district or building you may need to add additional materials. These resources are intended to give you a starting point in the development of your Peer to Peer support program. The Elementary Peer to Peer Program Playbook contains all of the below information and resources in one document.


Administration Permission

Pupil Accounting

  • Peer to Peer programs at the elementary level are offered on a volunteer basis and are not taken for academic credit. However, if you are planning on using cross age peers from your middle, high school, or alternative programs, you must ensure you are following the MDE guidelines in partnership with colleagues in the upper grades. See the Pupil Accounting document for more information.

Establish a Team and Leaders

  • Pilot this program with one or two students with ASD. One option is select the Peer to Peer support students from 1-2 general education classrooms. Your program will generate interest and enthusiasm with staff and students as supports are developed and friendships are established.
  • Establish a team to assist in guiding the development of the LINK Program. Plan to meet once a week during the development of the program and monthly or quarterly thereafter.
  • Designate one to two team members (e.g. Team Leaders) who will have primary responsibility for overseeing the implementation of the LINK Program. These individuals could be teachers, social workers, guidance counselors, school psychologists, teacher consultants, etc. These individuals will be responsible for overseeing the implementation of program requirements such as student recruitment, training, scheduling of LINKS, case conferences, and fundraising activities, etc. These tasks may be delegated to others, but the Team Leaders are responsible to assure the tasks are completed.

Brochure 

  • Develop a brochure describing the Peer to Peer support program. This brochure must include: the purpose of the Peer to Peer support program, the special or general education staff in charge of the Peer to Peer support program with contact information, and benefits for the general education students.

Peer to Peer Recruitment Presentation

Peer to Peer Support Program Permission Slip

Set Up and Scheduling Considerations

  • Same-Aged Peers
    • These are students in the building and may be in the same grade or a higher grade.
  • Cross-Aged Peers 
    • Middle School: Must be within walking distance or have transportation available.
    • High School: Must be within walking distance or have transportation available. Since some high school students are released from school earlier than elementary, they may come after school.
    • Alternative High School: These students are an underutilized resource who may come for two hour blocks. Plan to work closely with the elementary principal if using alternative high school students.
    • When using cross-aged peers, please see the Secondary Peer to Peer Program Playbook for more information.

How to Develop the Schedule

  • To develop and implement a formal Peer to Peer support program at the elementary level, examine a typical elementary school schedule. This is required because there are not set times for specific instruction, there is not a bell to move students from one classroom to another, and there usually are not multiple teachers for multiple subjects. Implementing a Peer to Peer support program at the elementary level requires a creative understanding of the schedule.
    • The elementary schedule is typically organized into three parts:
      • AM schedule, which includes the academics and specials that occur during the morning time frame.
        • For example: the school day starts at 9:00am. There is approximately a 2 ½ hour block for the morning instruction, from 9:00-11:40am. The mid-part of the day is devoted to lunch and recess, approximately 1 ½ hours. In most schools, the upper elementary students (3rd-5th grades) will go to recess first and lunch second. Lower elementary students (Kindergarten-2nd grades) will eat lunch first and then go to recess.
      • PM schedule, which includes the academics and specials that occur during the afternoon time frame.
        • For example: there is approximately a 2 ½ hour block for the afternoon instruction, from 1:00 - 3:40pm.
  • Peer to Peer support can happen in any of those time frames. Peer to Peer support can happen in the special or general education setting, lunch, recess, and during specials. Peer to Peer support can also happen with cross age and/or same aged students depending on the needs of the student with ASD.

A foundation of the LINK Program includes a triangular exchange of communication between the LINK student, student with ASD, and the medium of exchange.

The medium of exchange is critical because it provides a neutral focus between the student with ASD and the LINK student. Often, students with ASD do not understand the social workings involved in interaction with others. The medium of exchange eliminates the awkwardness of the interaction. The purpose of the interaction is clear. The medium of exchange demystifies the ASD allowing the two students to remain engaged with each other while interacting.

The medium of exchange works differently for each student with ASD. The medium is based upon the student’s strengths, challenges, and the impact of the ASD. It is important to remember you are always working off a three pronged approach with every student and the environment must be organized. There must be a purpose to the activities that are occurring and to what the students are expected to accomplish.

There is an expectation that these activities are going to be a cooperative venture in order to accomplish the goals of everyone involved. This is a philosophical departure from traditional programs for students with ASD, which function under a top-down teacher to student responsibility. The major difference is that a cooperative venture communicates a sense of responsibility among the LINK students as they interact with the student with ASD, not only accomplishing specific tasks, but also a generalizing social interactions beyond the classroom.

The primary medium of exchange is the general education curriculum since both populations of students have access to the general education curriculum. To ensure the student with ASD engages in the general education curriculum, the general education curriculum will be differentiated.

At the elementary level, students are more likely to see their friends through the lens of what they have in common. Sharing those commonalities make for a point of entry into relationship building. The Self-Advocacy section provides examples for students to open the door for sharing information with the whole class.

After the LINK students have been recruited and scheduled, it’s important that they are supported on a regular basis by meeting with them to provide training and curriculum. It is suggested that elementary LINKS students meet with program coordinators on a weekly (or at least monthly) basis to engage in lessons and activities that promote the LINKS program while assisting the students in learning more about autism and the student(s) that they support.

There are a few different options that can be considered as you plan your meetings with students to provide training and curriculum. These meetings can focus on any combination of these five categories throughout the year: ASD 101 & Sensitivity Training, Student Specific Education and Self-Advocacy, Direct Instruction on Specific Skills (Social Communication), and Case Conferences.

ASD 101 & Sensitivity Training

Student Specific Information and Self-Advocacy

  • Another option to consider for training activities is to provide information about the student that they support. LINK students enjoy learning about and understanding the student(s) that they support. They are interested to know what their strengths, challenges, interests, and what specific supports help them to be successful.
  • All About Me “Self-Advocacy” Presentations: Students with ASD have often prepared their own presentations to help his or her classmate learn more about themselves. Sometimes, parents and/or school staff prepare and present PowerPoint presentations or “All About Me” boards on behalf of a student who might not speak.
  • Specific Supports: Additionally, you’ll want to provide the LINK supports with information about the supports that the students they support use. Provide information related to the visuals that the student relies on, his or her communication system, break plan, self-management system, etc.

Direct Instruction on Specific Skills (Social Communication)

  • The third option to consider when planning your regular LINKS training meetings is to target teaching specific skills that the student with ASD is working on with LINKs support. Think about skills that the target student needs to be taught that all students could benefit from. What skills are therapists pulling students to teach that could be better taught alongside typical peers?
  • For example, the speech and language provider (SLP) might be targeting figurative language as a skill that the student with ASD might be learning. The SLP can do a lesson for the target student and his or her LINKs for a training activity. The school social worker might prepare a training lesson on “Small Talk” (using a “speed dating” method). Not only do all the students get to learn important social and communication skills, but the LINKs can then help the target student to practice, utilize, and generalize the skills throughout his or her school day. A few examples of skills that may need to be targeted are:
    • Figurative language
    • Small talk
    • Locker room – expected vs. unexpected behaviors
    • Big deal vs. little deal
    • Working in a group
    • Managing stress with the five point scale
    • Knowing when to talk (and when to stop)
  • See the Schickler Elementary School LINKS Curriculum for a scope and sequence of activities that relate to social and communication skills and even align with the common core standards.

Case Conferences

  • The final activity to consider when outlining your LINKS training plan is case conferences. The purpose of case conferences is to allow the LINK students time to celebrate the successes of the student(s) they support as well as problem solve any challenges. Case conferences can be held as part of training at any time of the day (before or after school, lunchtime, recess, or being released from class during academic time). Case conferences are outlined in greater detail in the next section of this manual.

Case Conference Schedule

  • The purpose of case conferences is to allow the LINK student access to other LINK students supporting a student with ASD. Case conferences are meetings of all the LINK students that are supporting the same student with ASD to discuss student progress and problem solve areas of concerns using the Meeting Mechanics Process. Case conferences may or may not include the student with ASD.
  • Establish a case conference schedule for each student with ASD. Schedule these meetings at the beginning of the semester and hold them every 3-4 weeks or more frequently if needed. A general agenda for case conferences includes:
    1. Positive experiences with the student with ASD.
    2. Concerns about the student with ASD.
    3. Brainstorm ideas to address concern areas.
  • Case conferences can be held before or after school, during lunch hour (e.g. provide pizza, McDonald’s etc. to create an engaging, relaxing environment) or during other class periods. Develop and obtain a permission slip from the missing class teacher if a LINK student will be missing class for the case conference.

Case Conference Permission

  • Must have parent or guardian and the general education teacher permission if the LINK student is missing general education content. 

Case Conference Information Sheets

Case Conference Passes

  • Hall passes are required if the LINK student will be leaving from the general education class or will be in the hallway during class time.

Case Conference Note-Taking Forms

The Passport & Peers

  • The Passport was created to help guide families and school personnel in focusing on typical age appropriate school, family, and community experiences. Using a peer group gives the highest level of assurance these learning opportunities will not be missed. With permission from families, the Passport can provide an organized medium of exchange to engage with peers at a case conference meeting. Empowering the peer group with awareness raises new levels of expectation. In addition, their energy mobilizes natural learning experiences in the home, school, and community environments.

Using Case Conferences to Organize Support for School and Community Opportunities

  • Case conferences can be used to talk with students about how to include their new friend in outside of school activities. When students begin to understand their role in extending an invitation to birthday parties, clubs, sports and other community activities, they build a foundation for friendships in and out of school.

Creative Ideas

LINK of the Week

  • LINK of the Week is a way to recognize a LINK student who has gone above and beyond while in the Peer to Peer support program. The students are nominated by teachers, paraprofessionals, administration, or support staff and then the teacher of record for the program selects the "LINK of the Week." You can find a bulletin board outside your classroom to spotlight your program. Showcase the relationships with pictures and other fun information.

Schedule a Celebration and/or Banquet

  • Peer to Peer programs bring the whole school/community together to focus on what is working in schools where everyone belongs! Typically at the end of the school year, there is a Peer to Peer celebration. The families of the students with ASD and the families of the LINK students should be invited to the celebration. The celebration can range from serving dessert at a school facility to hosting a full meal. Another idea is to have a picnic in the park, with burgers/hot dogs, face painting, and games. It depends on the resources of the school district and funds generated through fundraising efforts.
  • Create a basic celebration invitation to be shared the students and their families.

Certificate of Participation/Appreciation for LINK Students

Paper Plate Awards

  • Create and provide a paper plate award for all LINK students and students with ASD in the program. These awards can recount the year’s most memorable events with the students. During the year, keep a log of the most memorable events for each student to create the paper plate awards at the end of the year.
  • Paper plate awards are paper plates that are decorated and made into an award. The paper plate award usually reflects something humorous, exciting, noteworthy, etc. that has happened throughout the semester or school year.

T-Shirts 

  • Design & create a LINK T-Shirt for all participants in the program. Have a contest for students to design the T-shirt and have the program participants or the entire student body vote on the winning T-shirt design. Print the winning design on the T-Shirts and distribute to both students with ASD and the LINK students at the banquet.
  • START has created a Media Kit with prepared templates for you to personalize and instructions on how to best disseminate information on your program to the public. You can work with your school or district’s communications department to develop a communication plan and ensure you are following your school or district’s communications guidelines.
  • It is critical to collect data on the importance of the Peer to Peer support program. There are four components to the Peer to Peer data collection process: program demographics, student data, surveys, and the end of the year fidelity checklist. Ideally, all four data sets would be collected, however it is mandatory to collect the program demographics and the fidelity checklist data.

OAR'S Kit for Kids Program

  • The Organization for Autism Research (OAR) has created a Kit for Kids program, which is designed to teach elementary and middle school students about their peers with autism. This program can be used to educate students about autism and to increase awareness of autism among students from grades K-8. Visit OAR's website for more information

ORDERING Elementary PEER TO PEER PROGRAM PLAYBOOKS

Elementary Peer to Peer Program Playbooks are available for $14/each + the cost of shipping. Orders can be placed online through Allegra Printing. Instructions for ordering are available here