Cromie students build peer relationships

By: Maria Allard | Warren Weekly | Published April 8, 2015

 Cromie Elementary School fifth-grader Blake Lyons gets ready to play “Rock, Paper, Scissors” during the peer-to-peer session March 17 in Warren.

Cromie Elementary School fifth-grader Blake Lyons gets ready to play “Rock, Paper, Scissors” during the peer-to-peer session March 17 in Warren.

Photo by Maria Allard

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WARREN — While attending school is mostly about learning English, math, social studies, science and more, there is also a social component in which many students feel like they don’t measure up.

That is something a group of Cromie Elementary School fourth- and fifth-grade students are taking seriously. For the second year in a row, are getting to know each other better through a peer-to-peer group that meets on a regular basis during the school year. Cromie is part of Warren Consolidated Schools.

Social worker Melissa Wheeler and speech and language pathologist Stephanie Bommarito oversee the group, which is designed to help students who are on the autism spectrum.

“Kids with autism are often withdrawn,” Bommarito said.

Wheeler and Bommarito said five of 77 peer-to-peer students have been identified on the autism spectrum.

“The rest of the students are their general education peers,” Bommarito said.

The group meets for 30 minutes once a month to participate in different activities that focus on community, safety, belonging, trust, effective communication and enjoyment. Resource room teacher Kristen Houbeck and teacher consultant Penny Gonzales assist with the program.

“All the social workers created a program within their buildings,” Wheeler said. “It really worked for us last year. The kids really liked it.”

“It created some really good relationships. There is a lot more understanding of kids on the autism spectrum,” Bommarito said. “We talk about respect, community and trust. Each activity kind of focuses on those skills, how to communicate and how to trust.”

On  March 17, when the peer-to-peer students — some wearing green for St. Patrick’s Day — entered the gymnasium and lined up in the group setting, a few students shared their thoughts on how their day was going.

Then it was activity time, in which the students found a partner, including fourth-graders Sophia Bommarito and Sofia Muja, who paired up. With their counterparts and in an orderly fashion, the students played a few games of “Rock, Paper, Scissors” using hand signs to indicate one of three choices. Rock beats scissors; scissors beats paper; and paper covers rock to win.

“Who can tell me what the point of the game is?” Wheeler asked.

“You’re kind of competing,” Bommarito said. “Every time you play, one of you is the winner.”

Then the students played again, but this time they weren’t trying to win. This time, the students were encouraged to shift from a competitive method to a cooperative mode.

“You are trying to match your partner,” Wheeler said. 

After a few rounds, the students were able to stay in sync with each other when deciding to be a rock, paper or scissors, an aspect that fourth-grader Stefan Jonic commented on.

“When doing it competitively, you feel upset,” he said. “You both win when you cooperate.”

“Competition brings out some feelings of anxiety,” Bommarito said.

Wheeler gave a quick pep talk before the session ended.

“Be aware of everybody’s feelings and try to work together,” she said. “Maybe some of our games don’t always have to be competitive.”

The peer-to-peer group has had a positive impact on the students.

“I think it’s really cool that I got to work with other people,” fifth-grader Jorden LaVearn said. “I feel really included with everybody, and the activities are fun.”

“It gives me a chance to talk to people I’ve never seen before,” fifth-grader Blake Lyons said. “I make a lot of friends in this program.”

Students needed to get parent permission to participate in the peer-to-peer group.

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