In Hudson, Wisconsin there’s a high school working to create a better educational and social environment for each of its students. The program, Student-to-Student is a partnership between Hudson High School and Bridge for Youth with Disabilities. It pairs students in the special education program with “mentor” students and is the brainchild of Margi Miller, who was on the board of Bridge for Youth With Disabilities when she thought of the idea. She is the mother to both a child without disabilities and a child with disabilities.
Now in its fifth year, Student-to-Student has seen a huge increase in popularity. In one year, the program’s mentor population doubled to 131, allowing the program to include special education students from the middle school as well. Each month, students with disabilities including autism and moderate to severe intellectual disabilities attend social events with a peer, and it’s all about the fun. That fun and the friendships that are created have moved from monthly social events and are spilling over into the classroom.
Friendships also continue after students have left the halls of high school. Programs like Student-to-Student are popping up across the country. The benefits of a program like this stay with the students for life.
Benefits for Children with Disabilities
Students with disabilities, who participate in programs like Student-to-Student, gain more than a once a month friend. The friendship continues to develop in the classroom and helps the student with disabilities avoid feelings of isolation. Being a part of one’s community helps fight off depression and anxiety. Therefore, not only do the students’ social skills improve, a skill they will carry for life, but also their overall mental health is improved, as well as their self-confidence.
Benefits for Children without Disabilities
Students without disabilities not only build friendships that they never thought possible, but they develop leadership skills that will benefit them years down the road. In addition, they learn compassion and develop an understanding for those in the world that are labeled as different. The program provides them with an emotional and social education that the classroom alone cannot give them.
Programs like Student-to-Student are popping up across the country and there may already be one in your area. If you think your child could benefit from such a program, contact the local school system.