Friends spell it with personalized books – School News Network

wooded hills — Teacher Margaret LePard’s kindergarten students gathered around her on the floor and thought of her classmate Riley Seeburger.

Their task was to complete this sentence: I like being your friend because…

“He hugs me,” one girl said with a raised hand.

“He likes to dance,” said one boy.

From someone in the back: “He can be very silly.”

Reid Menzel summed up: “There are so many options.

Like several other classes at Orchard View Elementary, these students worked on friendship books for their autistic classmates who joined them for part of each school day.

Dozens of people throughout the building wore T-shirts donated by Waste Management that commemorated the district’s LINKS program, which matches general education students with those who might need extra help in the classroom, cafeteria and on the playground.

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Strong ties endure

The Orchard View LINKS program has 135 students in four classes who have signed up to help, so the 28 students who need a little more can have two, three or more LINKS friends. Their relationships often last for years and extend far beyond the school day, said school social worker Sharon Rusche.

In the cafeteria, fourth-grader Cameron DeSander munched on slices of red pepper and reflected on his friendship with classmate Trisha Chandana, who he’s been paired with since freshman year.

“I told her she was unique and should never change,” Cameron said of what he wrote in the friendship book he helped create for her.

As for what he learned from Trisha: “That autism is part of his personality,” he said, “and sometimes you have to be patient with autistic people.”

Year two students, left to right, Sienna Heslinga, Aanvi Veerouthu, Ben Weiss and Emery Mann are pictured with social worker Sharon Rusche

Students as teachers

Rusche added that LINKS is a great example of “kids taking on the role of social skills teachers. Who can best model them? I consider myself a facilitator, but children are the ones who provide opportunities for others to grow. Children know, and they show themselves.

This was the second year Orchard View students have made the Friendship Books, after a hiatus during pandemic-related building closures.

“The first time around, we got a really nice response from the families about how much they appreciated what other kids were saying about their child,” Rushce said.

And those with unique challenges also have a lot to teach their peers.

“What we’ve realized over the years is that (general education) students get as much, if not more,” Rusche said. “They regain self-confidence, they model expectations of kindness and friendship and feel pride in it. And the real friendships that come from that are really nice to see.

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