I’m a Tulsa Kid: Peers with Purpose – Grant Ketchel, president
Josh Miller and Jenks Middle School eighth grader Grant Ketchel are best buddies. Josh, Grant’s cousin, is a Jenks Middle School student with special needs. That friendship and their daily school lunch period together was the catalyst for starting Peers with Purpose at their middle school, under the guidance of the Autism Center of Tulsa. Now 50 students strong, Peers with Purpose provides aid to students in need of social support and encourages compassion and understanding in the general student population. Peers are trained in order to aid students with disabilities needing social assistance in areas ranging from lunch buddies to notifying teachers of situations in which the student has become a target of bullying. Grant is the President of Peers with Purpose.
TK: How did you discover the Peers with Purpose program and why did you want to be involved?
Grant: Last year in seventh grade was the first year that my cousin, Josh Miller, and I were at the same school. When I found out that Josh and I were in the same lunch period, I started inviting Josh to sit with me and my friends at our lunch table. My Aunt Jennifer (Josh’s mom) decided that we could help other kids with special needs experience what a typical lunch is like by sitting with a typical peer at the peer’s lunch table. So my aunt and Mrs. Wilkerson – who also has a son at our school with special needs – came up with Peers with Purpose and launched it at Jenks Middle School. The main reason why we started Peers with Purpose was to let kids with special needs develop friendships and have experiences outside of their special needs group and their typical comfort zone. We also wanted other kids to be aware of different types of disabilities and how to react under certain situations.
TK: Did you go through a training program to learn about different disabilities and how to be inclusive?
Grant: At our meetings we have had several lessons on the types of disabilities and special needs that exist at our school and how we can best interact with those students affected. Our Peers with Purpose sponsors have walked us through many “what if?” situations that better prepare us to respond to and include our special needs peers.
TK: What is your role as President of Peers with Purpose?
Grant: As president of Peers with Purpose, I set up the meetings and choose the topic plans. Also, I have to make sure everyone who is interested in joining Peers with Purpose gets plugged in.
TK: How has Peers with Purpose helped you understand students with disabilities?
Grant: Since I’ve grown up with a cousin with special needs who is my same age, there wasn’t as much of a learning curve for me, but I’ve seen Peers with Purpose help my friends become more comfortable taking the first step in getting to know their peers with special needs.
TK: Do you have a particular student with a disability who you have befriended and helped socially?
Grant: Eating lunch with my cousin Josh has completely changed my day for the better. Josh is so funny, and I have gotten to know him a lot better. But what is even more important is that my friends are now his friends too. The other day my aunt said that she asked Josh who his best friend was… He responded by saying Joe Tasker. Joe has been my good friend since first grade. Now we all even do stuff together outside of school. I don’t think that Josh and Joe would’ve ever really gotten to be friends if it wasn’t for Peers with Purpose and the lunch buddy program.