Erie High School’s Tigers Together Peer Mentor Program is bridging the gap between special education students and typical peers. EHS mentors work alongside students with differing abilities because it promotes inclusivity and a more accepting environment.
The program is spearheaded by Elizabeth Goodrich, special education teacher, at EHS. She started the program in the spring of 2016 with retired teacher Gaynelle Tuck because they noticed the separation of students. Their special education students were attending general education classes with adults by their side, which is not ideal for peer relationships. “Peers reach out to students better when an adult isn’t attached to them all the time. It’s better if another student is with them to help them make friends,” Goodrich said.
EHS mentors are paired with a peer who needs extra support for one class period in an academic class (core class), elective class, or in a special education classroom. A few mentors are assigned to Soaring Heights PK-8 where they get the opportunity to work with teachers and students in the SSN program.
Daelyn Thasiah, senior, has been a peer mentor for the past three years. While growing up, her parents volunteered at the Special Olympics, so she’s always been around others with differing abilities. She went into the program thinking she’d help someone, but ended up learning more about herself. “I’ve learned so many things from being a peer mentor, like patience, but the thing that stands out the most is how I learned how to communicate without verbally talking. I’m a very talkative person, so I thought it would be difficult for me. But, I learned how to use a talking device to communicate with another student,” Thasiah said.
Thasiah loves being a peer mentor and said “Being a peer mentor is like going to class with your best friend.” After graduation, Thasiah plans to attend Indiana University to study special education. She wants to get her teaching experience first, but then her ultimate goal is to open a cafe that hires people with differing abilities.
Sophmores, juniors and seniors at Erie High School can apply to be a peer mentor. In order to be accepted into the program, students need to fill out an application, participate in an interview and submit a recommendation form. Goodrich says the program has taken on a life of its own and she had no idea that it would become such a huge program. The program started with 12 students in its inaugural year and has grown to 37 students in this year’s program. The program has become so competitive that she has to turn away 20-30 students every year who apply to be a mentor.
The program is a year long commitment and mentors earn .5 elective credit or .5 practical art credit each semester. Mentors are required to attend a training session before school starts and attend monthly group meetings. Additionally, they participate in several class activities with students in Ms. Goodrich’s special education class, such as, a Friendsgiving Feast, cookie decorating, and selling “Thankful Beans.”
EHS students interested in becoming a Tigers Together Peer Mentor, should reach out to Ms. Goodrich by emailing [email protected] or calling (303) 828-4213 ext. 45927.