Inclusive Education at Ada Christian School

Third grade students at Ada Christian School

Third grade learners and friends at Ada Christian School.

When asked how inclusive education fits into Ada Christian’s vision, Principal Melissa Brower is stumped. “Without it, we wouldn’t be whole,” she says. “Inclusive education fits in just like everything else we do.”

Ada Christian School (Ada, Michigan) enrolls approximately 560 students in preschool through 8th grade, and has worked with CLC Network since 1987. Their mission, equipping students for service in God’s world, breaks down into four focus areas: mind, body, soul, and community. Mrs. Brower explains,

“As a school of course we have high standards for our students, but high standards may look different for different learners. Our job is to meet each student where they are and help them grow.”

Melissa Brower with students

Third graders share what they’re learning with principal Melissa Brower.

Part of that growth is making sure parent-teacher conferences and classroom dynamics reflect all areas of personal growth. “Our society can be so focused on judging people by their output, their ability to produce something. We want our students to know that everyone plays a part in God’s Kingdom, no matter their abilities.”

Each week, homeroom classes review how they are treating each other in community. In middle school, small groups led by teachers, youth pastors, and adult volunteers help students reflect on their faith. Commitments like this help create a safe environment of care, which is especially valued by parents of kids with disabilities.

Parents like Jim Horman have an especially strong relationship with the school. His son, Cole, transferred to Ada Christian last year after struggling in a public school. “It’s been a surprise how much Christianity is infused into everything at this school,” he shares.

“They are Christian in their responses to Cole, not just in the title of the school. They help other students see Cole beyond his disability, and talk openly about his needs. As his parents, we feel like an extension of the team surrounding him with compassion and understanding.”

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Sixth graders demonstrating that everyone is part of God’s family with a “family portrait”.

“I couldn’t express strongly enough how positive our experience at Ada Christian has been,” reflects Randy Russo, whose daughter Isabelle is enrolled in 7th grade. “As a parent of a child with a disability, that positive experience becomes emotional for us. The teachers and students just accept her so easily, she blends into the school in all capacities without hesitation. The feeling of acceptance in this school is incredibly unique.”

Ada Christian continues to refine its approach. This year, Jim Hapner became the first full-time Inclusion Specialist. “I’ve been really impressed by how the school’s vision guides everyone here, helping us work together,” he reflects. “I look forward to working closely with students who may struggle to meet social and academic challenges.”

Linda Slotsema has served as an instructional aide at Ada Christian for more than thirteen years. Over that time, she’s observed many changes in how teachers react to students with special needs.

“Our teachers are proactive about getting help for their students — not for the purposes of getting them out of the classroom, but to make sure they are successful inside of the general education classroom.”

Mrs. Brower shares some of the demonstrations of success she sees in her day. “It’s the little things that are really such big things. Like during a band concert, seeing a student reach out and calm the person next to her who may be panicking over the change in routine. Or watching a student hurry out, but when his friend reaches out to say goodbye he stops, and takes time to recognize that person and ask about his day. That’s the picture of Christlike behavior we are striving for.”

Elizabeth Dombrowski photo

Elizabeth Lucas Dombrowski is the advancement director at CLC Network. 

This article originally appeared in the 2014 Inclusive newsletter – CLC Network’s semiannual newsletter.

Growing Up with Ben – Life with a Sibling with a Disability

What are the unique needs and experiences of growing up with a sibling with a disability? Our friend Aubrey shares insight into growing up with Ben, her older brother with significant developmental disabilities in today’s post.

Aubrey and Ben

Aubrey and her brother, Ben

I was silent about both the struggles my family endured as well as the laughter my brother Ben brought to our lives until my first year of college. Having an older brother with severe developmental disabilities meant my life looked very different from my fellow classmates, classmates who didn’t understand disabilities first hand. I vividly remember an event where a change in routine caused a flip to switch in my brother that he couldn’t control. He was attending my sporting event with our parents, and at 6’3” and well over 200 lbs., his outburst was dangerous, intimidating, and I’m sure confusing for the many bystanders.

Boerema family photo

The Boerema family

When faced with questions from friends, I remember feeling so torn. I didn’t know how to be honest about the frustrating and sometimes scary reality of life with Ben while at the same time communicating that he was, still is, and always would be, the older brother I loved dearly and couldn’t imagine life without. Explaining the frequent ugliness of his diagnosis seemed like betrayal to a brother who I knew would feel great remorse for his uncontrollable actions a couple of hours later.

It wasn’t until I realized that I could be a voice for Ben that I opened up. Now, after a few years of discussions and reflection, I would like to offer some insight on what was helpful growing up, what would have been helpful, and what I need now, as an adult.

What Was Helpful

  • For the last 25+ years, a friend of our family has prayed for Ben every Tuesday (and still does). He called my parents often for updates, and would always call or visit on Ben’s birthday as well as send a card, usually with a gift. Knowing that someone besides a family member truly cared for Ben was and is encouraging and uplifting.
  • When I was nearing the end of high school, my church got a new youth pastor, whose wife had a sister very similar to Ben. Being able to talk about some of the hard things as well as the joys made processing easier and brought a connection different than others I had while growing up.

What Would Have Been Helpful

  • A Support group.

    A support group with peers who had similar experiences and whose feelings I could relate to would have been incredibly therapeutic. I think having a safe place to talk about my disappointments and fears that otherwise stayed secret would have decreased my feelings of being alone and different. It would have also been wonderful to share the joyful moments, that often felt small compared to some of the negatives, with others who understood.

  • Professional counseling.

    Along with a support group, it might have been helpful to go to professional counseling. I didn’t receive any until last year, and now that I’ve been able to talk through it with a counselor, I wish I could have attended earlier in life.

  • Openness.

    Openness within my family would have allowed me to process the highs and lows as well. I know my parents wanted to shield me from the difficulties as much as they could, and although I am grateful for their wisdom, I am even more grateful for the times we are now able to talk openly about the hard times. A family goes through many highs and lows together. As painful as it is to talk about the “hard stuff”, such as the wishes and dreams that are desired for the sibling yet won’t be reached, it’s important to uncover those hurts. It’s also vital to talk about the delight the sibling brings to the family, as it can be easy to overlook the gift of being blessed with a sibling with disabilities. I’ve learned more about life from Ben than from any other person.

  • Genuine Interest. 

    Something I have always wanted is the ability to know if those who asked questions were genuinely interested in knowing who Ben was as an individual. I would have felt much more comfortable talking to people about the joys and hardships if I knew they were willing to learn before judging, and love before dismissing.

All of the above are still needed and greatly appreciated. With the blessing and challenge of a sibling with disabilities comes a need for openness, honesty, and a network of support. After realizing how I can be an even greater part of Ben’s life, I have a different perspective on who I am as Ben’s little sister than I did growing up. I still have torn feelings when asked hard questions, but I understand now that I, along with my family members and those close to Ben, can be the voice he doesn’t have.

Join a Sibling Support Group

If you know of a child in the Grand Rapids (MI) area that would benefit from a sibling support group, we invite you to explore the monthly sessions offered at Family Tree Therapies (Grand Rapids, MI). You can learn more on their website.

Aubrey and BenAubrey Boerema is a fourth-year student at Calvin College, studying Therapeutic Recreation and Business Management. She loves spending time with family on her parents’ farm, and enjoys participating in equine therapy for children at Rainbow Ranch, Inc. in New Era, MI.

ADHD and Your Child: ADHD Experts Address Your Questions

"ADHD and Your Child" webinarFollowing our free “ADHD and Your Child” webinar last spring, we received a number of questions from parents and teachers alike on understanding and supporting persons with ADHD. For National ADHD Awareness Month, we wanted to revisit a number of these questions and invite you to watch the archived webinar with ADHD experts Doug Bouman, S. Psy. S. and Robert Bulten, M.D. This webinar, hosted by Christian Schools International, covers the symptoms and treatments of ADD/ADHD.

Q: Is ADHD hereditary?

Dr. Bulten: Very much so. It the second most heritable condition in the human genome.  The first is height.

Q: Are there similarities between teenage boys and ADHD?  When should we seek testing and treatment for ADHD?

Dr. Bulten: It used to be thought that ADHD in boys far outnumbered that in girls. But we’ve now realized that this is no longer true, and ADHD is common in both boys and girls. During the teen years, the hyperactive component (which is so common in younger boys) tends to become less noticeable. Testing and treatment should be looked into when the symptoms become a functional impairment.

Q: How much does a child’s diet help or hinder a child with ADHD?

Dr. Bulten: Diet does not usually have much positive or negative effect on a child with ADHD. Now and then, someone will find a particular food (e.g. dairy, gluten, dyes, etc.) that they believe helps to a degree, and then they take that out of the diet. But the return is so small that I don’t recommend that to start treatment. By the time my patients get to me, they will have tried all the non-medical options.

Young Boy PhotoQ: What are some particular gifts kids or teens with ADHD possess?

Mr. Bouman: ADHD in and of itself provides zero benefits to the student with ADHD.  For example, the gift of creativity or artistic ability and ADHD are not linked. However, just like students without ADHD, students with ADHD possess incredible gifts, strengths, and abilities.

Q: Are students with ADD/ADHD more likely highly intelligent and gifted than not?

Mr. Bouman: Students with ADHD are not more gifted and talented than those without ADHD.  ADHD impacts the entire range of abilities.  In fact, highly intelligent children with ADHD frequently experience more frustration since they are painfully aware that their performance and output is markedly below their intellectual abilities and peer performance.  How frustrating and painful for a bright student to “know” what to do, yet are unable “to do what they know”.

Q: Do you see the emotional issues, such as loss of confidence and “self prosecution” (especially in newly diagnosed teenagers) improve over time?

Mr. Bouman: Yes, for sure.  The first step is for the teenager and the significant adults (parents, school staff, etc.) to understand and accept ADHD, and how it is impacting this student’s daily functioning.  Once effective strategies and medication are in place, the student experiences authentic success (i.e. they can now “do and produce what they know”).  This frequently buoys their confidence and eliminates their self-persecution.

Q:  What is one thing you wish parents knew about ADHD?

Mr. Bouman: There is a tremendous amount of misinformation in the media, trade magazines, etc.  Parents need to know ADHD hugely impacts a student’s learning and productivity in school even though their child is not hyperactive or impulsive.  Quiet, hidden (inattentive type) ADHD is more dangerous since it is easily missed or misinterpreted as not trying or a bad attitude.  Complicating things is the remarkable inconsistency observed in a student with ADHD, sometimes called a “picket fence” up-down functioning.  Children, adolescents and adults with ADHD are frequently able to focus and sustain concentration if what they are doing is preferred, highly stimulating, high interest (think video games, legos, T.V., even reading high interest books).  The real test of an individual’s attention is when they must complete tasks that are important yet boring.  Another important parent “tip”, is to watch for limited improvement (e.g. learning, producing, grades, behavior) when individuals, student, teachers, and school support staff have honestly tried their best to overcome the problem using methods that work for most kids.

Dr. Bulten: Probably that they are not the cause of their kid’s ADHD – unless you consider the genetics. It’s not bad parenting–more discipline will not change things—it will probably make things worse.

Students learningQ: What is one thing you wish teachers knew about ADHD?

Mr. Bouman:
(1) All of what I wish parents knew (see above)

(2) Please be careful to simply and thoroughly report to parents what you notice in class and avoid saying a student has or does not have ADHD.

Dr. Bulten: Again, that they are not the cause of the student’s ADHD. “Carrot and stick” discipline will not change anything.

Q: What are a few practical strategies a teacher can use in the classroom to support a student with ADHD?

Mr. Bouman: Move the student close to the teacher. Having the student in close physical proximity to the teacher affords closer monitoring of the student and increased accountability.  Teachers can cue the student that important directions are coming their way (e.g. “students the next two instructions are really important” – sometimes referred to as “verbal highlighting”).  Close proximity also allows ongoing accountability with high frequency feedback (e.g. “do this first row of math computations and then check back with me”).

Students with ADHD need understanding and empathy from their teacher; their teacher needs to recognize that they are fighting upstream against a roadblock that their peers are not.  Teachers can create a “prosthetic classroom” by externalizing (making visible and permanent) instructions, requirements, rules, and steps (e.g. use of post-it-notes, lists, pictures).

Q: What is one thing you wish kids/teens knew about ADHD?

Mr. Bouman: Kids really like the truth about how ADHD is negatively impacting the use of their gifts.  Many students have conjured up something far worse (e.g. “I’m stupid”, “I’m dumb”) than ADHD.  Kids need to understand ADHD is not their fault any more than it is their fault for having brown eyes. Kids need to know there are effective interventions that can ‘even the playing field’ for them. They need to know that things will get better and there is great hope for the future.

Dr. Bulten: I wish kids with ADHD knew they were not lazy. As I interview adults with ADHD and ask them what one comment they remember their parents and teachers said was, “If you would only try harder. You have so much potential and you just don’t apply yourself.” If we could measure “effort”, especially in young kids, we’d find they are trying harder than other kids and the results are poorer. As they get older, they start to give up and they stop trying altogether.

Q: What are some practical strategies persons with ADHD can use to accomplish tasks in their daily life?

Mr. Bouman: First, make sure any prescribed medication is at optimal levels.  Students and adults with ADHD are ideally completing a one or two page symptom reduction form each time they meet with their physician.  Other strategies include:

(1) Writing down your top three non-negotiables for taking good care of yourself.

(2) Enlisting accountability supports – a trusted friend or life coach.

(3) Use technology as a work-around.

Q: Do you have any recommended books or websites to learn more about ADHD?

Mr. Bouman: The best organization with incredible resources is CHADD – Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyeractivity Disorder.

The best book for adults is Reaching for a New Potential: A Life Guide for Adults with ADD From a Fellow Traveler by Oren Mason.  Also check out Dr. Mason’s blog, Attentionality.

At CLC Network, we daily evaluate and create plans for struggling students based on their strengths and areas of need. Learn more about our perspective in this video and visit our website to learn more.

And of course, Dr. Bulten at Behavioral Medicine Clinic does an incredible job monitoring and supporting patients.

 Doug Bouman photoDoug Bouman, S. Psy. S. is the director of evaluation services at CLC Network (Christian Learning Center) in Grand Rapids, MI, a Nationally Certified School Psychologist and a Licensed Master’s Social Worker. He is a graduate of Calvin College and Central Michigan University.



Dr. Bulten photoRobert Bulten, M.D. previously practiced general pediatrics for 12 years and has been practicing behavioral medicine (including ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and mood disorders) for the past 30 years. He is a graduate of Wheaton College and the University of Michigan Medical School.

Identifying Your Vocation

Identifying Your Vocation - The First Steps | we shared last week, life after high school can be difficult to figure out, particularly if continuing education isn’t the obvious next step for your son or daughter.  We asked Life Coach Judi Warner to share some initial questions she asks clients to help them determine their vocational interests. As you’re thinking about life beyond high school for your son or daughter, consider sitting down and discussing these questions with them.

1. Understanding yourself:

  • What are your areas of strength?  (Example:  Are you good at building things or are you better on computers?)
  • What is challenging for you?  (Example:  Is being on time difficult? Or making decisions?)
  • What do you really enjoy doing?
  • What activities or environments to you tend to stay away from?
  • What do you value?  (Example:  Friendships, Faith, Responsibility, etc.)

2. Accepting and liking who you are:

  • On a scale of 1-5, how satisfied are you?  1 (dislike) — 5 (like)
  • If you could change 3 things about your life, what would they be?
  • What has been your biggest accomplishment in life and your biggest disappointment?

3. Goal setting:

  • What is your dream job or ideal future?
  • What motivates you?
  • Where is your life out of balance?

4. Facing reality:

  • What are you afraid of?
  • What’s working well for you?
  • What’s in the way of finding the job you desire?

5. Moving forward:

  • Who can you think of that might be able to help you move forward?
  • On a scale of 1-5, how motivated are you to set goals for yourself?  (1 – not motivated  5 – very motivated)
Is Life Coaching for you?

If you found these questions helpful, perhaps you may want to meet with a Life Coach to figure out your next steps. What does Life Coaching look like? Typically, it takes about a month of weekly meetings between you and your Life Coach to establish a good relationship. During that time, you’ll address questions like the above and determine action steps to reach a desired outcome.  Your coach will encourage you and may help you stay accountable to the goals you set.  You determine the length of the relationship, however, the average relationship is three months.

Judi WarnerIf you want to explore these questions and learn about how a Life Coach could help you, contact Judi Warner at judiwarner [AT] gmail [DOT COM].

10 Summer Activities for Kids with Disabilities

1. Create a Social Story.

Social Stories are a helpful way to depict what activities and appropriate responses your son or daughter MIGHT expect in an upcoming situation, like your summer break. The title of your summer Social Story could be A look at ________’s Summer Vacation.  This social story could talk about your plans for what your child MIGHT experience this summer: visits to the library or park, spending time with a tutor or babysitter, books they MIGHT read, a visit to camp, and more. You could even make a Social Story for individual events as well as the entire summer. Read more about creating a preview of your summer vacation and the importance of using words like “maybe” and “probably”, in this blog post.

 2. Create a daily, visual schedule.  

Just like a vacation away from home can bring uncomfortable routine changes for some, your son or daughter might be distressed by the changes in routine summer brings. Help your child know what their daily activities are with a picture schedule, like this one from Shannon Des Roches Rosa in “Autism, Parenting, and Summer: Keeping Busy”.  (You can find photos for daily activities at Do2Learn.) The schedule can include time for academics, work/job, exercise, fun and more.

 3. Maintain academics…and make it fun!

Reading by DeptofEdThis is a realistic and important goal.  You may not necessarily be able to move your children further ahead academically, but maintaining academic skills is a valid goal. Consider having a reading, math, writing, and/or art day, where you review skills learned during the year. Find fun ways to incorporate these skills into your summer by visiting museums, journaling, participating in your local library’s summer reading program and more.  Talk with your child’s teacher to discuss material you should work on over the summer and older students or community members who might be a good tutor, if that’s appropriate. Find more resources for summer learning from Edutopia at this link.

Jump in!4. Schedule play dates.

Schedule an outing with your child’s Circle of Friends or classmates. Using a Social Story, work with your child beforehand on what activities they MIGHT expect, appropriate social skills, and what to do if they get frustrated.

5.  Plan family activities.

Allow your child to pick some special family activities they would like to do this summer – whether that’s a picnic, family vacation, or video game night. Allowing your child to choose and help plan a family activity empowers them to own their decision. If you’re looking for family-friendly events that are intentional about including persons with disabilities, look into Wilderness Inquiry or movie theaters with a sensory friendly film in your area. Whatever activity you choose, be sure to include it in your picture schedule!

6. Do service projects around your child’s strengths.

Give to others this summer by participating in or starting a service project in your neighborhood, within your church, or in your broader community.  What strengths and interests does your son or daughter possess that could benefit the community? Maybe they’re great at planting seeds, cleaning windows, organizing library books or playing with animals. Help them utilize their strengths to give back to the community. Explain to your child what service is and why it’s important to help others.

HopScotch7. Exercise. 

What activities does your child enjoy? How can you make this into something active? Brainstorm with your child what can be done to exercise and why this is important.  If they enjoy videogames, incorporate the Wii Fit into their schedule. If they like art, have them draw hopscotch and then play it with them.  If they enjoy athletics, encourage them to join a summer sports league or train for a race.  Plan an exercise period each day…and plan as many as needed!

8. Give your summer a theme…or two…or three. 

There are so many themes you could choose from, whether that’s a certain country (perhaps Brazil for the FIFA World Cup), a holiday (celebrate Flag Day on June 14 through Independence Day on July 4 with a patriotic theme), a favorite school subject (summer is the perfect time to study science – there’s so many bugs and plants to learn about!) or something else your family enjoys. Plan your meals, activities, learning, and art projects/exploration around your chosen theme.

 Kids Cooking9. Make meals together.

Invite your child to help plan and prepare meals – maybe one meal per week. Allow them to assist with the shopping by helping create the shopping list, crossing off the items at the grocery store, adding up the items, etc. You can even tie your meals in with your summer theme(s).

10. Play games, games, and more games!

Whether it’s a board, card, or a yard activity, games are a great way to practice social skills, as well as how to follow rules, be a gracious winner, be cooperative, and lose. Looking for game ideas? Visit Marbles – The Brain Store for games, software, puzzles, books and more that develop critical thinking, memory, coordination, visual perception and word skills.  Most importantly, have fun!

photo credit: US Department of Education via photopin cc

photo credit: AnneCN via photopin cc

photo credit: DarkElfPhoto via photopin cc

photo credit: willem velthoven via photopin cc

Pam Maat Image

Pam Maat is a teacher consultant at CLC Network and the director of educational support services at Holland Christian Schools. She is a trained All Kinds of Minds facilitator, and a graduate of Grand Valley State University and Calvin College.





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Katie Barkley is the marketing  communications manager at CLC Network.