Peer connections sells popcorn and goodies to fund activities


Abby Warner

Femi Harris spins teacher Jenna Sorenson in the riveting game of pin the bow on the gingerbread man.

Abby Warner, Editor

   Tasty treats are a great way to top off lunches, and the Peer Connections program has been selling goodies such as popcorn and brownies all year. Though most students enjoy this, there is more behind this activity than most people know.  

   The program is designed to help promote inclusion for special education students. This also encourages those students to spend a class period paired with a peer in the general education classrooms.

   Doing this also helps general education students who may be looking into a career that works around special needs students and puts them in that atmosphere to help them gain experience. 

   Special education teacher Judy Osterberg is someone who helped create this program.

   “These kids are super social and love to interact with anybody. But overall, they love to help. They’re all just the biggest helpers,” said Osterberg. 

   The peers really do enjoy getting involved with making treats and spending time with their gen-ed friends. 

   “The most beneficial thing I get to see is my students making friends outside of this class,” said Osterberg. “It warms my heart because that’s what the program is all about. Inclusion is my number one passion as a teacher.”

   Peer Connections originated when Osterberg had a final project for her master’s degree at Grand Valley. With that, she chose to do a project on the Peer Connections program. She brought her ideas to the guidance counselor and teacher consultant, and the concept became reality.  

   “It [the program] just piloted from there. It’s really all been a huge success,” said Osterberg.

   Like the general education students, the peers have their own special events. They have their own prom, and they have special activities that give them a taste of what real life may be like.

   Peer connections teacher Hadleigh Houghton works with Osterberg in the program. The classes are separated by teachers, but they do almost everything together.

   “We sell popcorn and brownies on Fridays to help fund some of the activities we do outside of school,” said Houghton. 

   With the profits, money is placed in what is called “transition money.” These funds are used for fun activities around the community, but also for things like Christmas when they go shopping with the students. If the peers’ guardians can not afford the trip, they use transition money to help cover the cost.  

   “I think it has totally helped change the culture of the building because kids go out of their way to come back and talk to our students,” said Houghton. “It makes them feel like they are just like any other student, and it really has built that bridge between special ed and general ed.” 

   Though funding is needed for some things they do, the making of these goodies brings the kids together too. They help make popcorn and brownies, spend time with their peers, and learn life skills to hang on to.