Circle of Friends help developmental disabilities students transition schools

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WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Transitioning from middle school to high school can be a tough period for students, but it can be even harder for a student with developmental disabilities.

Wednesday, those students got a helping hand from their own peers, as they’re settling into their school.

You might not know it by looking at her, but 13-year-old Isabelle Renteria has a disability.

“I always worry about her being accepted into a regular class setting, which is good because they get to do that,” Renteria said.

That worry of acceptance caused Renteria to enroll her daughter in The Arc’s Circle of Friends program.

“She was able to come out of her shell. Even when she was like third grade and below, she was real quiet. With the Circle of Friends, she was able to open up,” said Renteria.

Circle of Friends pairs special ed students with other typically functioning students who become mentors there to help them as they transition through school.

“As our six graders come in, they’re new to moving from class to class,” said Wilbur Middle School Psychologist, Stacey Stockemer. “It’s a much bigger school than they’re used to. So it helps provide them a friendly face.”

Hanna Defever first became Isabelle’s buddy in the fourth grade.

“She was kind of be more in the background and just go with the flow, but like now, I kind of see her being out there a little bit more and it’s really cool because it’s like that push a little bit,” Defever said.

It’s a push of encouragement that Carmen has wanted to see for a long time.

“Me and my husband were like, ugh. We got emotional because it changed her life,” Renteria said.

For parents like Carmen, her main concern is inclusion and acceptance for her daughter, whether she’s transition from elementary to middle school or middle school to high school.

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