Peer to Peer Implementation During COVID-19

A message from START

Posted August 19, 2020

We at START understand that the pandemic has resulted in many changes within districts. Because of these changes, we have received numerous questions about how to continue Peer to Peer programming to support students with IEPs. This email is our way of providing suggestions and ideas (and hopefully some inspiration) to assist with navigating some of these questions. 

Students with IEPs need social opportunities now more than ever! The reality is that many students are facing increased anxiety as a result of the unpredictability and unfamiliarity surrounding them. Ensuring that students with IEPs have access to regular, supportive interactions with peers is a proactive, evidence-based strategy to help reduce that anxiety, head off problems, and maintain social connections.

With the unpredictability of the coming school year, SEL considerations are at the forefront for all students. An important part of SEL is “how teachers build relationships with students and how students build relationships with each other” (CASEL). Peer to Peer focuses on prioritizing relationships and human connections, and these programs will certainly support the existing and emerging mental health needs of our students as we embark on this school year.  

Here are some ideas to continue to support peer to peer in all learning environments, including for your students who are in virtual or hybrid learning.

Face to Face:  
Physical proximity does not define how we socialize. Even with social distancing 6 feet apart we have the opportunity to connect students with one another. LINKS can still sit “next to” students with IEPs in class, have lunch together, and encourage one another by using gestures or visuals to communicate. One of the primary roles of peers is to model expected behavior. This can include how to wear a mask, how to interact with others while sitting at a distance, stay calm, and ask for help. 

You can use the LINKs boxes on the START Peer to Peer page for activities to help students connect. And remember, you can always ask LINK students for ideas!

Virtual: 
Zoom and Google Hangouts are becoming familiar tools to students. For students that are engaging in fully virtual learning or a hybrid model, we can create times during school hours where school staff facilitate interactions between students. Amanda Foster, a Teacher Consultant at Montcalm Area ISD, has been organizing ideas to support student engagement and facilitate social opportunities for all students. Visit the START Peer to Peer page to access the Padlet and the Virtual LINKS Box. With some initial modeling and practice, older students may be able to continue these connections independently through the use of technology.

For younger children, connect them with each other during class time, but also consider reaching out to families in order to establish and facilitate virtual “play dates” to keep them connected. Some amazing interactions have happened online even with preschoolers. We need to keep kids connected at all ages.

What do we do next?
We understand the reality of staffing shortages and budget cuts and the possibility that Peer to Peer programs may be suspended for the school year. However, rather than eliminate these valuable programs, we can focus on how we can adapt them to meet the needs of our students. Educators are proving their ability to adjust delivery of instruction for academics, and with some creativity and determination, we can adjust the delivery of social opportunities as well. We need to continue to give students with IEPs access to typical peers.

The greatest way to do this is by using the best resources you have...your LINKS!  They know how to socialize with each other during these times better than any of us. We can maintain Peer to Peer programs in the midst of a pandemic. If there was ever a time when students really needed each other, it is now - and not just students with IEPs, but all students.

Please let us know how we can help you by contacting us at autismed@gvsu.edu. We also encourage you to share your ideas for keeping peer to peer support going strong through this pandemic.

Thank you, 
The START Project Team