Strong bonds built through FDSH circle of friends art class

-Submitted photo
Amanda Peterlin, Circle of Friends Art instructor, helps Nolan Slininger, mentee, choose chalk to use on his project.

During sixth period at Fort Dodge Senior High you’ll find about 30 students laughing, smiling and creating in an art room. Circle of friends art combines general education and special education students together in an art class.

According to Amanda Peterlin, instructor, the general education students serve as mentors for the special education students in the class. Seating charts include a mentor, a couple of mentees and a para-educator participating at each table to encourage interaction.

“The students have developed really strong bonds through the mentor relationships,” Peterlin said. “All of the students cherish the bonds and the mentors love to see the progress, growth and joy in the mentees.”

Ellie Baedke is a mentor in the class. She said she has enjoyed meeting and interacting with kids she is not normally around and would not otherwise have the opportunity to get to know.

“The mentees all have such positive attitudes,” Baedke said. “They are really fun to be around.”

Maci Charon, another mentor in the class, agreed, “I look forward to Circle of Friends all day,” she stated. “If I’m having a bad day it gets better instantly when I walk into this class. I love interacting with the other students. They always make me smile.”

Peterlin added, “The class offers the mentees and mentors a looser flow and more laid-back environment than other classes. The students joke and engage with each other in a genuine way. Because of the nontraditional environment, I often see kids who wouldn’t pick up a pencil all day using a paintbrush or chalk. It’s rewarding to get the students to try new and different things.”

So far, in the class the students have participated in icebreakers to get to know each other, worked with watercolor paints, clay and chalk. Peterlin said the class is a whirlwind tour of all art topics because she wants to give the students an opportunity to experience the various types of art.

Nolan Slininger, mentee in the class, said the clay project was his favorite because it was squishy to work with. He also liked painting the clay ornaments with glaze. Braxton Klindt, also a mentee in the class, likes to paint and draw characters from the “Chronicles of Narnia” and “Star Wars.” He said he likes art because it is fun.

This is the first time FDSH has offered the Circle of Friends art class. Peterlin said it is important to see the interaction that occurs and to offer the kids this type of opportunity.

“It’s really cool to watch the mentees have an a-ha moment as they overcome the fear of doing something new,” Peterlin said. “I love providing them the opportunity to make something they can take home and be proud of. And I love the fact they get to experience something they might not have had the opportunity to do and to make connects with other students they may never have known if not for this class.”