Circle of Friends has had a footprint at Wilcox-Hildreth since the 2016-2017 school year. Mrs. Overholser and Mrs. Gruwell were the first adult sponsors of the group and they met with middle school students. The target students at that time each got to choose 2 peers (1 boy & 1 girl) from their class to be in the group with them. One member of that original group is still part of the Circle of Friends group today, with different peers involved each year.
When it first started, Circle of Friends had grant money available that schools could apply for to use for materials, outings, activities, etc. So, the leaders were able to purchase a lot of materials to use with our groups and also took them on several outings to go bowling, eat at a sit-down style restaurant, etc. to help give them more social experiences/exposures. At times, they would also do activities with the whole class to help create awareness & acceptance amongst everyone.
They also had a movie party at Christmas time where they had pizza/snacks and watched the movie "Elf," then followed up the movie with discussions about some of his unexpected behaviors and how people viewed these differences. The group covered a wide variety of topics throughout meetings including table manners, hygiene/puberty, expected/unexpected behaviors for various social settings, using our social filters, transitioning to high school, expectations for the dances that they used to have at the middle school(even practicing some of the common dances at that time), etc.
One big event the group had was having Anthony Ianni come to speak to our middle and high school students about Autism. The group was also able to purchase t-shirts for the entire middle school one year as well. Two of the current adult sponsors, Mrs. Muhlbach and Mrs. Kenney, were involved with Circle of Friends when they were student teachers at Wilcox-Hildreth.
The Circle of Friends has now transitioned to the high school. As new facilitators, Mrs. Kenny, Mrs. Muhlbach and Mrs. Mach hope to help their target students learn appropriate social skills, expected behaviors, and how to build friendships through modeling with peer students and practicing social skills. An overall goal is for our peer students and school to become more aware of what it means to have autism, as well as, other challenges that come with a disability with the hopes that they will be more accepting and inclusive with current and future target students in and outside of Circle of Friends activities. The group strives for target students to gain confidence in their social awareness and skills and build meaningful friendships. The high school group meets for lunch on most Thursdays throughout the school year, with larger activities scheduled outside of the school day.