by Grace Krane
You may have noticed the increased number of yellow and purple shirts moving throughout the Bellbrook community lately. The growing number of people in these eye-catching shirts can be attributed to the district-wide program, Supportive Peers.
Supportive Peers started in the Bellbrook-Sugarcreek schools at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year by a few Bellbrook teachers, including Mrs. Rivero, a math teacher at the high school. The program pairs high school juniors and seniors with other students in the district, grades K-12, with special learning needs. The high school “Lead Peer” then visits the classroom of their peer with special learning needs, or “Buddy Peer,” everyday to help them with their school work and engage with their classmates. High school juniors and seniors interested in the program apply to become a Lead Peer through a short application, while the family of a student with special needs fills out a separate one to become a buddy peer.
Event organizer and leader for the program Daphne Le, a senior, is able to see the process from both sides. Le jumped for the opportunity to become a Lead Peer as a junior the first year the program started. She feels connected to the program on a personal level, as her brother is a young special needs student on the autism spectrum, and a buddy peer in the program. Le explains, “I wanted to share my brother’s story. I wanted to share my story. But I think the biggest reason why I wanted to join this program was to hear and learn from others.”
The program allows “natural pairings” to occur at the summer training events between Lead and Buddy peers to allow true friendships to form in an unforced way. From there, the distinctive shirts are assigned. The yellow shirts with purple hands indicate the Lead Peers and adult supporters, like Mrs. Rivero, while the purple shirts with yellow hands are reserved for the Buddy Peers.
The number of Lead Peers has more than doubled in the one year the program has been established. This year, the number of Lead Peers actually supersedes the number of buddy peers that applied for the program, which seems to be a good problem for Mrs. Rivero to have. “It makes me emotional. I mean, to see the number of students wanting to give back to the community, specifically the special needs community, it just makes me speechless,” stated Mrs. Rivero. She expresses immense gratitude for the Lead Peers when she says, “The #1 factor, without a doubt, of the program’s success has been the kindness, dedication, self-less-ness, and overall amazing-ness of the Lead Peers.”