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Circle helps students make friends

High school club brings together kids from special, general education classes

Posted: December 9, 2009 8:52 p.m.
Updated: December 10, 2009 7:00 a.m.

Valencia High School Circle of Friends club sophomores, from left, Ada Rauch, Maribel Castillo, Hayley Lamson and Sarah Calor, right, sit with special needs student Lexi Grove, in white, as they discuss music and fashion during lunch break at Valencia high on Friday.

 
Valencia High School Assistant Principal Tracy Moscoe remembers attending a special education conference about two years ago and hearing a presentation about Circle of Friends.

The nonprofit organization brings together students with special needs and general education students in an effort to break down stereotypes and build friendships.

“I was so impressed by the heart that was coming out of the general education students,” Moscoe recalled.

It got Moscoe thinking. Why can’t Valencia High School have a chapter?

Before long, Moscoe, one of three club advisers, started a pilot Circle of Friends program with 60 students.

Word spread about Circle of Friends and the club has grown to count more than 300 student as members this year, out of a school with 3,200 students.

The club was recently honored by the Santa Clarita City Council.

Valencia High School is the only William S. Hart Union High School District school with a Circle of Friends chapter.

There are nearly 30 chapters in high schools across the state, said Barbara Palilis, executive director of the Circle of Friends nonprofit organization.

The program works on a simple concept that pairs special needs students with about three or four general education students.

The students have a wide range of special needs, including autism, Down syndrome and physical disabilities.

Once a week, students gather and have lunch with their new buddy.

The friendships continue after school as Circle of Friends members call their buddies at home just to and chat about their lives.

The students have found that they can find more similarities in their peers than differences.

“Being in this club has really taught me to open my eyes more,” Valencia senior and vice president of communication Chelsea Itaya said.

Itaya said she never knew any of the students with special needs at her campus.

“They’re so sweet and kind to everybody,” she said.

The club takes away stereotypes about students with special needs and creates a way for students to help their peers more.

“Just because you have a disability doesn’t mean you are any less human or any less of a teenager,” said Nikki Hencey, a special education teacher.

Susan Browning, a speech and language pathologist at Valencia, has watched her students with special needs grow.

“I see their communication skills improve as a result of this club,” Browning said.

Through Circle of Friends, students are able to build life-long communication and teamwork skills that can translate into careers after high school, Palilis said.

“They go out and make our world a better place,” she said. “And our campus a better place.”

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