Students at Portage High School have a unique opportunity to share their talents and mentor their peers with cognitive and developmental disabilities. Approximately 65 students are currently enrolled in the Peer Tutoring program. Students can enroll in the course at the beginning of their sophomore year. Peer tutors at PHS accompany special needs students to their general education classes, such as art, band, and home economics. In these settings, peer tutors provide assistance based on students’ needs. They may provide individually based accommodations, such as scribing, assisting with fine-motor tasks, or reading material aloud. This peer support allows special education students to access general education curriculum, corresponding with areas of interest and strength. Peer tutors at PHS may also work with students in direct special education classes, reinforcing instruction, answering questions, and offering guidance.
Students participating in the Peer Tutoring Program earn an elective credit. They are required to keep a journal to document their observations. Additionally, as part of their final exam, they are required to write a paper reflecting on their experiences, good or bad, and how their participation has changed their perceptions. As part of the program, peer tutors are encouraged to participate in activities with the special needs students outside of the regular school day. Activities may include school-based extra curricular events, including dances, sporting games or experiences within the community, such as going to lunch, shopping, or seeing a movie.
When asked about the program, senior Regina Lopez exclaimed, “I love it! The kids make my day. They work hard and try to do well. They are so happy when they succeed.” Other students have expressed the same sentiments. Sophomore Vel Vasquez indicated that when enrolling at PHS from out of state, the school guidance counselor recommended the Peer Tutoring Program when she expressed an interest in pursuing a career in the medical field. Vel noted that she really enjoys being a part of the program and has already signed up for next year. While Peer Tutors reportedly enjoy their experiences in assisting with academic tasks, many have indicated that their favorite activities are related to reinforcing hands-on skills that are part of the daily living skills curriculum, helping to improve independent living skills. Not surprising, cooking and holiday related activities appear to be among the favorites.
As part of the life skills courses, PHS is teaming up with designer and former teacher, Margy Boyce of Caring Designs, to replicate an apartment-like living area that would allow students to practice daily life skills, including cooking, cleaning, and laundry. Ms. Boyce is no stranger to charitable works. She is currently working with the Caring Place, procuring donations of furniture and household items from her church and the Portage Resale Shop, to furnish and decorate apartments for women leaving the Caring Place and transitioning to independent living. Ms. Boyce is using these same resources to help furnish the room at PHS. When approached about this opportunity, Ms. Boyce was excited to help. To date, she has been able to provide a couch and several small appliances for use in the classroom. The next goal is to add a bed, kitchen table and chairs, end tables, and additional kitchen items to further create a realistic living environment. This area can be used to assist students as they work on transition skills related to both employment and independent living.
This column solely represents the writer's opinion.