'Peer to Peer' class increases acceptance, inclusivity at Marquette Senior High School

Published: May. 30, 2019 at 12:10 PM EDT
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Marquette Senior High School students are supporting each other through a class called Peer to Peer.

General education students are paired with classmates who may have autism and struggle with social interactions. The class has built new skills and a stronger sense of belonging, creating a more inclusive environment.

MSHS senior Jaiden Peterson was paired with freshmen Nick and Olivia Hanes.

"Be a friend to them, and you help them with whatever they may need," said Peterson. "Just honestly being a friend to them is really important."

Peterson says it's very important to her to know that she's able to be a friend to them and help them.

"I wasn't friends with them when I met them," she said. "I had no idea who they were. To be as close as I am with them now is just so incredible."

Their friendship is apparent when you talk to Nick.

"She was super nice," said Nick. "We like to play together."

Senior Beau Zorza and freshman Connor Tasson are another pair of students in the class.

"Beau usually comes to my English class and he usually helps me with my work or helps me not forget about my stuff," said Tasson.

Zorza says the class teaches everybody involved.

"Not just the mentor or the mentee or the peer themselves, but the teachers as well and the general student section," said Zorza.

Zorza and Peterson have taken these new friendships outside of Marquette Senior High School.

"That's what Peer to Peer is," said Peterson. "You're able to take the students outside of class and you can invite them to the bowling alley and they recently came to a pageant I was in, which was super important."

While the school year may be ending, these relationships aren't. Students say they have plans to spend time together this summer.

"We can go to the beach and we can ride the elevators and we can go to the restaurant," said Nick.

Graduation this Sunday will be bittersweet.

"I will miss Jaiden so much," said Nick.

The relationships have given these students new confidence.

"Sometimes he's not here and I'm at my English class alone, and I can do more stuff but then I need a little bit more help as well," said Tasson.

Schools across the U.P. have similar classes, all with the goal of increasing independence and inclusivity. Forty students were in Marquette's Peer to Peer class this year.

"It makes a very, very big difference in this community and I think it's good that it's getting a little bit more awareness and acceptance of it, so that's awesome," Zorza said.

Unlike past generations, Zorza says this class shows today's young people are becoming more aware and accepting of each other's differences.

"I think it says quite a bit about our generation," he said. "Say what you will about us, but I'd say that we're very, very open to not necessarily change, but being inclusive with everybody. Any and everybody, really."