Recently I have been doing my Field Experience in Health and Physical Education at a local middle school. I teach 2 Health and 2 PE lessons each Monday and I observerve another PE class. The physical education class I have been observing is a class that includes special needs students. After my second observation I had to ask my cooperating teacher if the students in this class were selected as "peer leaders" or if the students had signed up to be in the class with the special needs students. I was shocked to find out that the students were just selected at random and it just so happened that this group was extremely helpful and understanding of the needs of their classmates.
I believe the teachers should be utilizing this advantage more than what I have seen. By having helpers or peer tutors you can divide your attention more evenly among students. Peer tutors should be specifically selected and Ellery (1995) suggesting that peer tutors should be (a) slightly older than their disabled counterparts, (b) emotionally mature, (c) good communicators, (d) highly skilled, and (e) volunteers .
As an athlete and a future coach I may be a bit biased but I see these attributes as spot on definitions of most athletes. I look back on my time in high school and remember that the coordinator of Special Olympics at our school was a Physical Education teacher who was not very well liked by a majority of students. He had limited ties to varsity sports teams and never reached out to coaches or even individual student athletes for help.
Students benefit from the volunteer service of being a peer tutor from both self awareness and as a resume builder for colleges. The benefits of a peer tutor for a special needs student are vast in that they give them the individual attention that they need as well as a friendship and social connection that can stimulate their needs for development.
The use of peer tutors I think could strengthen an entire school's sense of community. By bringing together students from different backgrounds working toward a common goal of helping students with special needs, boundaries of "cliques" in high schools would be broken down. I have recently found out that my home town school district has incorporated the high school football players into a cooperative league with the special needs students in the area. They have the students doing the same drills that the players do with the players! This is as real as it gets for the students. Any time they can meet and interact with an athlete, especially one that they have seen play their faces will light up. Being a high school athlete and a leader in your school is a responsibility most students are mature enough to handle. This maturity level is a key in the process and concept of having peer leaders assisting adapted Physical Education classes.
To recap, it is a great idea to reach out to students who would be interested and responsible enough to work with your adapted physical education students. Find leaders in the classroom, the athletics programs, and the community who are willing to put forth a little extra time and effort to make these students time in school and the gymnasium as enjoyable as possible.