In our third year of inclusive education at Lynden Christian Schools (Lynden, WA), we are experiencing transformed hearts and minds as we create communities of belonging for students with varied abilities. Our partnership with CLC Network has been paramount in helping our community understand inclusion and invite diversity into the classroom. This year, we started a 7/8th grade Circle of Friends because we noticed that while we were doing a good job of addressing social situations in the classroom, many of our students with disabilities needed assistance with social situations during breaks and recess. With the belief that some students need to be taught social nuances, our staff set out to create a safe place where we could allow students to explore how to interact socially in a learning environment.

To help students expand their social skills, we created an elective class (modeled after a Circle of Friends) which meets multiple times a week to help students with social strengths and needs learn and grow alongside one another. Our Circle of Friends believes that peer teaching and modeling is the best way for students to learn. Facilitated by an adult, the group discusses topics such as personal space, setting appropriate boundaries, group dynamics, and giving and receiving compliments.

It is very important that the students in our Circle of Friends feel safe. We are all experiencing a large amount of vulnerability—it is imperative to feel safe to allow learning to take place. To foster a safe space, we spend time playing interactive social games, journaling or drawing about deeper questions and participating in art projects together. We are even planning to do a service learning project outside of our classroom so that we can help our community while putting our newly learned social skills to use.

Recently, we spent time developing two art pieces that define who we are as a group. Our CLC Network consultant, Becky Tubergen, taught me about using pink and green puzzle pieces to define our strengths and “hot spots”. Each member of the group filled out their own puzzle piece, reflecting their own gifts (highlighted in green) and weaknesses (highlighted in pink). We took the individual puzzle pieces and put them together to demonstrate that we are a group that fits together and desires to help each other through the tough times in our lives. We are a giant puzzle that reflects God’s vision for community in 1 Corinthians 12!

Throughout our group conversations, we continue to refer to our individual and combined puzzle pieces. The students understand that when they have been operating within their pink side too long, it may bring about undesired behaviors. As a group, we brainstorm ways that our friends can help us get back to the green side where our strengths can shine and our hot spots are diminished.

We also created individual masks to reflect our individual and group identity. The students grew in unity through this group project that allowed them to express their unique personalities while working together on a similar project. The masks were a beautiful way to express that we truly are more alike than different!