Kentucky Peer Support Network Project (KPSNP)

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Welcome to the Kentucky Peer Support Network Project

The KY Peer Support Network Project is an initiative of the Human Development Institute (HDI) at the University of Kentucky. The project is funded by a four-year grant from the Commonwealth Council on Developmental Disabilities. Currently, the KY Peer Support Network Project is in its third operational year.

Purpose and Goals of the Project

The aim of the KY Peer Support Network Project is to foster friendships, learning, and inclusion for students with significant disabilities in Kentucky. This goal is met through two primary interventions that school teams around the state are implementing. Schools learn how they can use Peer Supports and Peer Networks to engage students with disabilities socially and academically.

Peer Support arrangements are defined as one to three students without disabilities providing academic and social support to a student with a disability(s) in a general education class.

Peer Networks include a group of three to six students without disabilities matched with one student with a significant disability, who meet regularly, usually once a week, to talk, enjoy an activity together, and socialize.

What's Going On in the Kentucky Peer Support Network Project?

The Kentucky Peer Support Network Project is pleased to announce we have received an additional year of funding from the Commonwealth Council on Developmental Disabilities! With this extra year we plan to bring on new pilot sites and conduct as many regional trainings as we can. These trainings will be in conjunction with the regional special educational cooperatives and low-incidence coordinators.

Most recently we brought on our eleventh pilot site, Ockerman Middle School in the Boone County school district. We are very excited to work with the wonderful teachers and students at OMS!

Video and Presentations




Project employees have provided a list of frequently asked questions and their answers. Click ... to access that information.

Q: What is the main difference between peer support arrangements and peer networks? Do they have the same purpose?

A: The main difference between peer supports and networks is that peer supports are an academic intervention that take place in the general education classroom while peer networks are a social intervention that take place outside of the classroom. They both work toward the goal of inclusion of students with significant disabilities, but one is more academically oriented while the other is mainly socially focused. Both interventions have been shown to increase friendships for students with significant disabilities with their peers without disabilities.

Q: Are peer support arrangements and peer networks also beneficial for students without disabilities?

A: Yes! Students without disabilities get the opportunity to make new friends they may not have otherwise met. Students without disabilities also broaden their perspectives by spending time with a diverse population. Additionally, research has shown that students without disabilities who provide peer support and have a C or D average raise their grades in that class by a letter grade and a half. Students who provide support and have an A or B average maintain their grades. This is a wonderful benefit for students who may be on academically at-risk.

Peer Networks

Q: Are peer networks also valuable for students with the most significant disabilities? What about students with very limited communication skills?

A: Peer networks are very valuable for students with significant disabilities and complex communication needs. A peer network is a great place to practice social skills and also meet new students, as students with the most significant disabilities are often not as integrated into the school culture. For students with limited communication, a peer network is a good place to learn and use their communication skills, including augmentative/alternative communication, such as sign language or a communication device. It is more fun for students to practice using AAC by communicating with people their own age!

Q: Who can serve as a facilitator for peer networks?

A: Anyone! Teachers, paraeducators, guidance counselors, coaches, principals, school psychologists, librarians, parent volunteers, and even members of the community make great peer network facilitators.

Q: Don’t peer networks take a lot of time to plan and to facilitate?

A: Peer networks are easy to facilitate. The planning process should involve reminding students of the time and location for the network meeting, then the facilitator should come up with an activity. This can be as simple as playing a board game. Eventually, the network members can come up with their own activity ideas! They may even want to just spend the time relaxing and talking together. A key part of each meeting is planning additional ways that the group can network outside of its formal weekly meeting.

Q: Our school is pretty fully scheduled; when could peer networks meet during the day?

A: Finding time for a peer network to meet is one of the most challenging parts of this intervention. Here are a few ideas for when peer networks could meet at your school:

i. During breakfast or lunch

ii. Before school during advisory/homeroom time

iii. During part of a schoolwide intervention period

iv. During any breaks/flex time built into the schedule

v. During designated club meeting time

Q: Is there any research to support peer networks?

A: Yes! There are several studies, as well as “how to” articles. See especially Hochman, Carter et al. (2015) and Carter et al. (2013).
  • Carter, E. W., Asmus, J., Moss, C. K., Cooney, M., Weir, K., Vincent, L., Born, T., Hochman, J., Bottema-Beutel, K., & Fesperman, E. (2013). Peer network strategies to foster social connections among adolescents with and without severe disabilities. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 46(2), 51-59.
  • Hochman, J. M., Carter, E. W., Bottema-Beutel, K, Harvey, M. N., & Gustafson, J. R. (2015). Efficacy of peer networks to increase social connections among high school students with and without autism. Exceptional Children, 82, 96-116.

Peer Supports

Q: Are peer support arrangement intended to replace the role of paraprofessionals in general education classrooms?

A: No, paraeducators play a vital role in education. Peer supports are a more natural way of supporting students with disabilities than one-to-one adult assistance and also allow for social interactions and friendships to develop. Paraeducators shift their role to support the classroom as a whole, when peer supports are in place. Should the student with a disability need additional support, the paraeducator steps in and provides the needed adult support.

Q: Does providing peer supports make it more difficult for the students providing assistance to get their own work done?

A: No! In fact, research shows that peer supports are extremely beneficial for the students providing support. One study has shown that students with C, D, or F grades raise their grade by a letter and a half when they provide peer support. The value in taking on this leadership role is very beneficial for students providing support.

Q: Aren’t peer supports the same thing as peer tutoring?

A: There is a very important difference between peer supports and peer tutoring. Traditional peer tutoring typically happens in the special education classroom; students without disabilities come in and provide support to students with disabilities. In a peer support model, students with disabilities are enrolled in a general education class and are integrated into the coursework through the support of one or more classmates who are also enrolled in the class. With peer supports, all of the students are learning together!

Q: Is there any research to support peer networks?

A: Yes! Like peer networks, most of this research has been conducted by Dr. Erik Carter and his colleagues. There are many studies involving a small number of students, but recently a large randomized control trial was used to test the effectiveness of peer support arrangements on expanding friendship and inclusiveness for students with disabilities (Carter et al., 2016), in comparison to more traditional models of one-on-one adult support. See also Carter et al. (2015) for a very good “how to” article in creating peer support arrangements.
  • Carter, E. W., Moss, C. K., Asmus, J., Fesperman, E., Cooney, M., Brock, M. E., Lyons, G., Huber, H. B., & Vincent, L. B. (2015). Promoting inclusion, social relationships, and learning through peer support arrangements. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 48(1), 9-18.
  • Carter, E. W., Asmus, J., Moss, C. K., Amirault, K. A., Biggs, E. E., Bolt, D.,…Wier, K. (2016). Randomized evaluation of peer supports arrangements to support the inclusion of high school students with severe disabilities. Exceptional Children, 82, 209-233.