Peer Inclusive Environment Makes Impact



Despite the majority of the student body beginning their school year online, West was not empty. Life skills students have been fully in person from the beginning. They were accompanied by peers and members of a new class this year called Peer Inclusive Environment.

Before hybrid learning kicked up, special education students have been attending school five days a week in person. Life skills teacher, Emily Mincher, said that having the school to themselves had its benefits.

“Our students do better one on one, in person just so we can provide face to face help for them and explain things,” life skills teacher Traci Titus said. “We do a lot of manipulatives so you know it’s hands-on and so the visual part of it is very helpful for them just to be in close proximity — close enough to understand what they’re learning.”

With so much hands on learning, Mincher said that having the ability to spread out around the school was helpful. She said, “We could use Bateman hall, the library, conference rooms, the gym, the kitchen, the cafeteria, it was just nice. We were really on our own schedule.”

Mincher said that in-person classes were essential from the get-go because of how difficult it can be to connect on the computer. Many life skills students have cognitive learning disabilities which, Mincher said can make online classes especially difficult.

Special education teacher, Bailey Eames said that while moving to hybrid classes caused some anxiety, the transition has been rather smooth. They are attending Monday and Tuesday no matter where they fall in the alphabet. Students also attend school on Wednesdays, which is more of a free day while teachers go to meetings.

 “We have them all go on the same days just so there is less confusion about the schedule. They do really well and they like having other students in the building,” Eames said. The curriculum has stayed on track and has not endured many changes according to Mincher. The main change that hybrid caused was that now, the school has more students again. 

This year, Peer Inclusive Environment kids, (PIE), are rotating through the life skills classroom throughout all hours of the day. Even though this new course was not heavily advertised, there are about 35 students involved over the course of the two semesters.

PIE students have been interacting with the life skills kids before hybrid began. 

“The PIE kids would do something different each hour, sometimes they walk students to classes, play games with them, or help them with their assignments,” Eames said.

These students do receive a grade for the course and have assignments of their own. They are expected to complete weekly journal entries explaining who they worked with, what they did together, and how it made them feel.

The new class can also take form in PE. “Coach A [Emily Argotsinger] also has the class and it is for PE where they walk with the kids, play sports, or dance with them,” Mincher said.

Some students involved in the class are interested in elementary education, special education, the medical field, or just working with kids.

Senior Macy Smith falls into that category, “I want to be a teacher when I get older, so I want experience with kids with special needs,” she said.

Smith said that every PIE student can work one on one with a life skills kid and help them with their schoolwork.

“When I get in there, they are usually reading so we will read with them and then we will play a game that kind of helps with life skills and just everyday tasks and then they have free time,” Smith said.

She said that the most important thing she has gained from this class is teaching experience with kids who learn differently than other people. 

“The best part is definitely making new relationships with the students,” Smith said.

Next year, the PIE class will be offered again. The special education department is hoping that more students will want to get involved. “PIE is beneficial to both kids and it really is a lot of fun,” Mincher said.