Sparta Education Foundation

Links program breaks down barriers

March 17, 2011 // 0 Comments

Challenged students get a little help from a friend by BETH ALTENA A program that pairs successful students and those that face learning differences is so successful that teacher Emily Molesta hopes it will become a model for other schools. “Links” at Appleview Elementary in Sparta is a new program that links children with learning challenges such as autism with their peers, who mentor them and often form special friendships. It is called Links because it links students together like the rings or loops forming a chain. Darby Andreini is one of the links who has several students within her mentorship, and the relationships with her new friends have become a staple of conversation at home. “Not a day goes by without a Ferd story or an Alex story,” said Katy Andreini of her daughter, a fourth-grade student at Appleview. Darby was interviewed by TV ? recently and will be featured in a news segment this week. “She has developed amazing leadership skills,” Katy said of her daughter. More importantly, the relationship between Darby and her links is one of mutual care. “She doesn’t look down on them or patronize them,” Katy said. Katy said her daughter can be frustrated when others assume her role with her links is to discipline or boss them around. “They mentor their link by helping them with their school work or making sure no one is picking on them on the playground,” she described. She gave the example of offering a special toy or incentive to complete tasks. “One of her links loves Thomas the Train, so she found one and said, ‘Do you like this Thomas? If you fill out your planner every day this week, it’s yours,’” Katy described as an example of how Darby encourages her links. The relationships that have become apparent between the 50 or so students who are involved in Links are a secondary result of the program, first developed by Grand Valley State University. The main goal of the peer support program originated as a way for children in the autism spectrum of learning challenges to be more successful at school. Integrating students with developmental disadvantages is a concept that is coming into its own, and Molesta believes other schools can look […]