Barbara J. Newman featured on “Think Inclusive”

Think Inclusive recently interviewed author and CLC Network Teacher Consultant and Director of Church Services Barbara J. Newman as part of their “Inclusion Spotlight” series. Listen in as Barbara talks about inclusive education: the Biblical basis for it, how it’s changed over the years, and what it looks like now. Barbara J. Newman photo

On how education evolved over the years: “It is vastly different… When I first started teaching there were children gathered in one room and all of them happened to have some kind of disability. At that point when I was with the CLC Network I had my own classroom but we were a school within a school. So, we started out with three or four classrooms within a larger Christian school. But the interaction people had with one another, with typical peers, would be on the playground, or the hallway, or in the bathroom. I saw that change with mainstreaming introduced during that time in the later 80s.”

Finding inspiration in Scripture:

“There were not a lot of models to follow except within the Christian realm we held a Bible verse dear, that was 1 Corinthians 12 where it talks about us all being a part of the body of Christ. I can’t say to the hand ‘I don’t need you.’ Each one brings gifts to the body so that was sort of our assumption and we watched that happen.”

About CLC Network:Christian Learning Center was literally started by parents whose children had been part of an institutional day children retreat which also ran a school within that institution. When they closed down, some of the parents said ‘You know what? We still want a Christian education for our children with disabilities.’ So, that really birthed the Christian Learning Center. It was very much a school when it started.”

CLC Network and inclusion: “When inclusion began to happen, the whole opportunity to be something different grew rapidly… We are no longer a school. We are there to help come along side of schools, communities to help them to include families who want to send all their children there including the child (with a disability).”

“So, CLC Network now truly is an opportunity to network with an organization that has some expertise in inclusion. We offer evaluation services. We offer school services and we also offer church services. I happen to work in the last two divisions. I’m Director of Church Services division and I’m also within the school division. I’m a consultant for them.”


Friends gathered at one of our partner schools.

What inclusion means to her:

“I suppose there are a whole host of definitions that people can go to… In the book (Nuts & Bolts of Inclusive Education) I often chose to define inclusion as having two important components ownership and friendship, ownership within that general education classroom friendship as a huge tool to make that happen.”

“Quite honestly in most of the schools that I work that looks different for each child. It is naïve to assume every person is going to require the same supports or the same schedule or the same opportunities. So even within that definition there has to be a lot of individualization to make sure it works for each one.”

Who inclusion benefits:

“One of the things I have discovered through this whole process of inclusion and watching that program blossom and watching children blossom and grow is I really thought we started this because it would benefit the child with the disability. What I really know today that it not only benefits the child with the disability, but it impacts an entire community.

“What an opportunity every student who goes through any one of CLC Network’s partnered schools has a chance to learn! They’re understanding that we all have gifts, we all have needs, and we all fit together in the body of Christ. Grace and kindness we even have towards one another is a lesson I think each person, every teacher, student, and parent leave understanding.”

This post was written by Zachary Fenell for Think Inclusive, an online resource dedicated to inclusion advocacy and education. Read the original post on their website

High Schoolers Celebrate Friendships at Spring Banquet

Entertainment at ConnectionsIn a little over a week, students and alumni from Calvin, Northpointe, and South Christian High Schools will join together to celebrate friendships between students at all levels of ability at the annual, student-run Connections Banquet.

As South Christian High School Inclusion Specialist and leader of the Connections Banquet Ellie VanKeulen pointed out, “Our purpose is to provide a memorable evening for individuals with special needs and their friends, an evening of fun, a celebration of each participants’ gifts, and full inclusion as children of God’s Kingdom!”

Our friend Tim, an alumni of South Christian, is an enthusiastic fan of the banquet.

“I like to go out to eat and attend a banquet just like my other friends do.  About 15 years ago a South Christian group started doing a banquet to let us have a fancy party like everybody else – our own kind of banquet.  I have gone every year since it started.  Let me tell you one thing for sure: I wouldn’t miss it for any reason.”

Dancing at the banquetAnd Tim isn’t the only one that doesn’t want to miss out. Since its inception, the Connections Banquet has grown from 60 participants from one high school to 240 from three schools. It’s become so popular, this year we had to move to a larger venue! Praise God! All of the participants enjoy spending the evening with their friends. Tim recalled some of his favorite parts of the banquet:

It gives me a chance to get out with others and have fun.  After all what’s not to like – there are lots of cool things:

      1. Awesome decorations
      2. A FREE picture of me with friends – Yes!  It’s free!
      3. Fun games
      4. Really cool entertainment
      5. WOW – Lots of pretty girls
      6. Spectacular food – NOT McDonalds

This upcoming evening will be a beautiful display of positive Christian community. And when the plates are empty, the dance floor diminished, and the camera memory is full, the banquet won’t be complete until everyone joins together and sings “Friends are Friends Forever”. As the Michael W. Smith song says:

“Friends are friends forever
If the Lord’s the Lord of them
And a friend will not say never
‘Cause the welcome will not end
Though it’s hard to let you go
In the Father’s hands we know
That a lifetime’s not too long
To live as friends”

Though everyone parts ways at the end of the evening, each person goes home reminded of how deeply they are loved by their community and their God.

Katie Barkley ImageKatie Barkley is the marketing communications manager at CLC Network. 

School Profile: Sussex Christian School

Sussex Christian SchoolThis year, we partnered with our first school in New Jersey: Sussex Christian School. Founded in 1958, Sussex Christian serves students from northern New Jersey and neighboring areas of New York and Pennsylvania. Today, they enroll 142 students annually.

Like many schools, they have always served students with learning disabilities, but hadn’t been able to welcome students with higher needs until recently. Two years ago, Corey VanderGroef enrolled, the youngest of six children to attend Sussex Christian School. At the time, Corey was non-verbal and had significant communication impairments.

Corey’s language immediately exploded.

“We knew we did the right thing,” recalls Corey’s mom, Tracy. “Every child should be educated and know they are loved by God.” Last Christmas, Corey told the Christmas story in front of his class with an illustration he had made.

Corey and classmates

Corey and his classmates act out a skit on graduation day.

Corey has been a blessing to his classmates as well. He plays with everyone, his mother says, bringing his favorite toys to share on the playground. He is a comfort to new students especially, who appreciate his friendliness.

Because of their experience with Corey, Sussex was able to welcome another student with high needs this year. Their vision for an inclusive Kingdom is coming true, one student at a time.

“Corey changed this school for the future,” administrator Trish King explains. “We want to be able to welcome every student, educate them to the fullest extent, and help them be who God designed them to be.”

Last fall, we traveled to Sussex to conduct a site study, a two-day intensive observation of the school’s current gifts and growth areas as related to inclusive education. Barbara Newman recalls, “When I arrived, it was clear SCS already had a commitment and passion for inclusion. In talking through the suggestions and ideas from the site study, you could sense the energy building, knowing this could be an option for their school. After meeting with board, administration, staff, and some parents, the pull and desire to create inclusive community grew even stronger. I’m eager to see what God does in this community!”

Class project

Administrator Trish King with students.

Today, Sussex Christian School’s board is laying the groundwork for a long-term commitment to students at all levels of ability and disability. Their inclusion committee is beginning to explore funding models and best practices in special education services. They are starting by welcoming all children of already enrolled families, and preparing for the new families who may come for these services.

“We would love to see any family become comfortable with bringing their children to Sussex Christian. God’s children are all different,” reflects Ms. King. “We’ve already seen those classes with inclusive education students often get along better, and those students are missed when they aren’t around.”

We are proud to partner with Sussex Christian School, and we look forward to helping their community grow as they embrace students with high needs.

Dombrowski photoElizabeth Lucas Dombrowski is the advancement director at CLC Network. This post originally appeared in the Inclusive – Fall 2013 newsletter. Read other stories from this bi-annual publication and sign up to receive it on our website.

Including Everyone in Valentine’s Day (Try this class activity!)

Valentine’s Day can be an anxiety-inducing day for students. Kids spend the day wondering if they’ll receive cards from their classmates and what those cards will say. Though this holiday is intended to share appreciation and love, unless schools are intentional, Valentine’s Day can promote exclusion of certain students that aren’t as “popular” or social as their peers.

I just heard the story of a young girl named Betsy, who is in third grade and about 30 lbs overweight. She received a valentine from a classmate with a pig on it. Though this might have been cute if we were talking about a pig that portrayed fictional characters like Wilbur or Babe, this was not the case; it was an attempt to tell a young girl who she was.

Recently, I spoke with some of my colleagues, teacher consultants Mary Ashby and Barbara Newman, about ways schools can combat the negative attitudes, bullying, and exclusion that can occur around this sentimental holiday. Elementary teachers at any school can use this activity to demonstrate that every student is important and an essential part of the community.

All you need for this activity is:Broken Heart

– Red or pink construction paper

– Scissors

– Markers

– Heart shaped stickers

Beforehand, cut out a large heart from each piece of paper. You should have half as many hearts as you have students (plus a few…it never hurts to have extra!). Now that you have your stack of hearts, cut zigzags down the middle of each heart (as if to resemble a broken heart).

Class Activity: 

Part One:

Mix up the “broken hearts” and hand one to each student.

Have students find their match (perhaps cue some fun music at this point). Once students find their partner, have them write something they like about them on their partner’s paper heart (i.e. “You draw well”, “I like your laugh”, “You are good at puzzles”, “You have a great smile” etc.). If a student is unable to physically write, be sure to help them with this portion.

Part Two:Heart of Encouragement

Give everyone a sheet of the heart shaped stickers. Use two stickers to tape the broken hearts together and then make a display with them on the wall of your classroom.

Students should still have plenty of stickers left. Throughout the month, whenever a student wants to encourage a classmate, they can place a sticker on their friend’s heart and write something nice about them. The goal is to get rid of all their stickers by the end of the month. An added bonus: no double dipping! Challenge students to place a sticker on a different classmates’ heart each time (that way, everyone receives encouragement, and not a few select students).


Talking Point: Isn’t life better when we have friends around us? Without the gifts of our friends, we would only have half a heart. Ask students to think of additional ways they can do something nice for a friend.

It’s your turn!

How do you include all students in your Valentine’s Day activities? Did you try this activity? How did it go? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Katie Barkley ImageKatie Barkley is the marketing communications manager at CLC Network.  She loves hearing stories that share the beauty of inclusive community. 

Inclusive Education in Action

Kids holding hands

Credit: Grand Rapids Christian Schools

Disability and inclusion advocate, David Anderson, Ed.D. recently spoke at Calvin College on special education and inclusion. While he was in Grand Rapids, we invited him to tour Grand Rapids Christian Schools to see how schools can support and enable students at all levels of ability. After his tour, Dr. Anderson gracious agreed to share his thoughts and observations with us.


On January 21, it was my privilege to visit Grand Rapids Christian Middle and Elementary Schools to observe first hand how inclusion is being implemented. In my teaching and writing, I have expressed concern about typical attempts at inclusive programming and stressed a theology of interdependence to anchor inclusion practices (cf. Anderson, 2006; 2012). This approach helps create an interdependent community where every student has a sense of belonging.


Knowing that there are many Christian schools that either do not enroll students with disabilities or limit that enrollment to students with learning disabilities or relatively mild impairments, I was encouraged to see how Grand Rapids Christian schools provide service to all students, incorporating students with various impairments as “regular” members of each grade/class. I witnessed students with more obvious disabilities—Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorder, visual or physical impairments, for example—participating in group activities with their non-disabled peers in what appeared to be a welcoming and safe environment.


The teachers, both “regular” and support services/inclusion specialists, modeled the collaborative, collegial relationship desired eliminating the “your kids/my kids” division that plagues many schools and limits the amount and success of attempts at inclusion. I saw children, with and without disabilities, actively engaged in peer-based learning, demonstrating that community does not refer to a group, but to the way of life at these schools,  making interconnections among students pervasive. Targeted enrichment services are provided to students and for those with more significant needs support services are available (e.g., 1:1 instruction, sensory stimulation, “quiet” time).

The supportive role of the administration is evident, and the commitment to make services available to all students without additional cost is more than commendable. Grand Rapids Christian Schools provide a working model for all Christian schools to emulate!

Works Cited

Anderson, D. W. (2006). Inclusion and interdependence: Students with special needs in the regular classroom. Journal of Education and Christian Belief, 10(1), 43–49.

Anderson, D. W. (2012). Toward a theology of special education: Integrating faith and practice.  Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press.

David AndersonDavid W Anderson, Ed.D., is Emeritus Professor of Special Education, Bethel University, St. Paul, MN, where he served for 15 years as Director of Graduate Programs in Special Education. He is also President of Crossing Bridges, Inc., an international ministry focusing on issues of disability and special education, which seeks to promote inclusive practices in churches and schools.