Cross-Program Peer Mentoring at Watson

two students sit together reading a book in a classroom

Watson’s peer mentoring program, which started in the WISCA autism school program, has now expanded to other Watson school programs!

The Watson Institute’s special education school programs at our Bridgeville, PA location operate harmoniously, sharing space and resources efficiently. Students in the Education Center South and WISCA programs interact with one another on a daily basis while transitioning through the hallways or sharing playground time.

Some of the classrooms within these Watson programs have taken those interactions a step further by forming cross-program peer mentoring relationships. We’ve shared the story of one such peer mentor relationship between students WISCA program and in the Education Center South program, but another inter-program mentorship opportunity has blossomed this past school year.

James, a student in the WISCA autism school program, joined the peer mentorship program with a unique idea in mind. Once a week James reads a story to students in an Education Center classroom!

Every Friday, James reads a story to the students in Rachel Veltri’s Education Center South classroom. Her students range in age from 10 to 15 and present with autism, intellectual disabilities, and communicative disorders.

According to James’ teacher, Leah Schmidt, his favorite part of reading to the classroom is interacting with the students, “he came up with his own story and had them add parts into the story!” James’ favorite book to read so far is The Magic School Bus.

Each reading session is interactive and engaging! James encourages his peers to participate, asking them questions about the story, inviting them to make sound effects like the “choo choo” of a train, and he walks the book around the room so that everyone has a chance to view the illustrations in the story.

Throughout his time in the classroom, James has learned to provide gentle and appropriate corrections and guidance for his mentees. If there are questions about the story, he takes breaks and encourages everyone to participate and talk about the story. If one of the students displays an interfering behavior, James waits patiently, allowing time for the classroom staff to help out as needed before resuming the story.

Ms. Veltri shared that her “students sometimes display interfering behaviors that can be sudden and alarming. James has never ever treated a student in my class like he was different. If something happens behaviorally during his reading, James does not react; he just keeps reading and talking to the group.”

This cross-program peer mentoring partnership has many benefits for the students in the Education Center, and also for James! He gains from the positive social engagement with peers and the reinforcement of leadership skills. James also has the opportunity to participate in a favorite activity with students his age and can share his own stories and comic book creations with them.

All of the students in this peer mentoring partnership benefit from the friendships they are building with each visit James makes to the classroom.

“My boys feel like they have truly gained a friend in James!” shared Ms. Veltri.

Learn more about the special education school programs at the Watson Institute in Bridgeville, PA!