Recently, I had the privilege to spend a day with the Peer Tutor students from Tooele High School in Utah and share the story of Hannah and Tyler. The Peer Tutoring program pairs special education students with general education students throughout the school during a class period. They learn together, go to gym class and work on art projects. They also hang out after school at football and basketball games, go bowling– and even go to dances together.
What’s so cool about this is: the students choose to be in the class. It’s not forced upon them. You can see the genuine friendships, care and happiness in the interactions between peer tutors and special needs students. It’s a feeling of inclusion. No one is left out. Everyone is family. It shows how care, attention and even a hug can go a long way in making someone’s life so much better. It can make our world better. It also shows how a program like this can take place at any other school across the country.
See, it’s a subject that’s important to me. A good friend of mine is considered special needs. I met him while living in Wyoming and we have been friends ever since. We’d hang out, play basketball, watch football and go out for food (that boy can eat!). I don’t see him as often now living in New York City, but he calls me just to chat, talk about WWE, sometimes asking for advice and we still even meet up every once in a while to hang out. He lacks stability in his life and deals with a wide range of challenges, but he knows he can count on me to be there, if not in person, over the phone. I hope I’m able to enrich his life in some way and make things better for him.
It’d be arrogant of me to think he’s the only one benefiting from this friendship. I’ve developed more patience and compassion, understanding we are all made different, but should still be treated with respect. He reminds me of the impact I can make on someone’s life and the greater purpose I can serve outside of my self-centered being. He values our friendship not for what he can gain, but for the most basic and innocent reasons. He simply appreciates the company, conversation, connection and a sense of belonging to something.
I saw the same authentic interaction with the students in the Peer Tutoring Program. They’re not friends because they want to get an A in the class or because it’ll look good on a resume. They are doing it out of pure care. Simply, they want to be friends and experience things together. That type of goodness can go a long way in shaping a better community, where being unified can make us all grow a little stronger.
I really think this quote from Rebecca Ford, Tooele High School Special Education Teacher, best sums it up. “I think when my peer tutors sign up for the program, they immediately think they are going to change the lives of my students with disabilities, and I think they very quickly find out that their lives are going to be the ones changed.”