Otsego Middle School is once again expanding its opportunities for students to make the school a better place, and make it a better experience for other students. This fall, OMS started LINKS Peer-to-Peer. LINKS is a program many schools are using that connects general education students to students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The goal is increasing socialization and independence.
“For the students with ASD it really helps them feel connected to peers, their school, and the community,” says Melissa Garrett, a special education teacher at OMS, who is running the program. But it isn’t just helping out ASD students. “The general education students end up growing in their ability to problem solve, collaborate, and boost their self-esteem.”
They introduced the program the last week of September when they launched #startwithhello week, a national movement to promote kindness. That week, the Be Nice student leaders greeted students at the door and held several events to share the mission throughout the school. After the introduction, almost 70 students expressed interest in being a LINK. Twenty students were trained during the first trimester and linked up to students with ASD throughout the day. That could be during WIN time, lunch and even during some general education classes they have together. They will train another 20 students for this (2nd) trimester. “Training consists of two weeks during WIN time to teach and education the students about Autism Spectrum Disorder and working with these students. Some students in this year’s new AIM class, a class focused on building resiliency, will also be trained and brought on board as LINKS this trimester.
There are so many options to continue to give all students within this program opportunities to building relationships and learn from each other. “I'm currently in the works of planning a field trip out into the community for a chance to have the LINKS teach the students some real life skills in context and also have some fun,” Garrett adds. The LINKS program will also be introduced at the high school.
This is the latest in programs added to OMS to encourage kindness, acceptance and inclusion. The school launched Be Nice two years ago and continues to grow the number of student leaders within that group and promote kindness in various ways throughout the year.