Pitt Co. middle school pairs peer helpers with special needs students

WINTERVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – Middle school can be a difficult time for special needs students, but A.G. Cox Middle School in Pitt County is hoping to improve those students’ experiences with its Peer Helper program.

You can barely tell 14-year-old Andre and Adrian Lewis apart on the outside, but on the inside, it is a different story.

“They are about a first or second-grade level for academics,” said Lauren Ball, teacher.

But the Peer Helper program makes going to school fun for them.

As an elective, other students around the school stop in each day to help teach their special needs friends math, reading and social skills.

“They are really smart, like smarter than me sometimes,” said Trace Baker, seventh-grade peer helper.

Autism teacher Jenna Ramsey said the program is breaking barriers.

“We’ve had peer helpers that have been in the hallway and one of their friends might start to make fun of one of our students, and they’ll be like ‘Stop right there,’” Ramsey said.

“If you saw a regular friend getting bullied then you would like stick up for them, so I do that even if it’s my own friends picking on them,” said Baker.

Baker said his new friends are not the only ones learning.

“It’s the best part of my day, and it’s just really fun, and it gives me a whole new view,” said Baker.

“When they get to build that relationship with our students, and they’re the teacher, and they’re the helper, then they realize, ‘Hey I know some things, and I have things I can teach this student,” Ramsey.

And overall, everyone learns a little something

“It ultimately changes the whole culture of the school and this can be for a lot of them the first time they feel truly included,” Ramsey said.

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