by Ellen Birch
For the last five years, I have worked closely with the fourth-grade teachers at New City School to plan a Circle of Friends Field Day at their school for our special-needs students from Ackerman School. Together we have planned a variety of activities – decorating picture frames, making trail mix, listening to music, planting flowers, making a door hanger, having relay races and having fun with the parachute.

Boy hugging woman on bridge
Ellen Birch with one of her students

Before the field day itself, I make a brief presentation to the fourth-grade students at New City School, a multiple-intelligence elementary school in the Central West End, as they are learning about various disabilities. I explain to them that our Ackerman students are “just the same” as they are but many of them communicate and learn differently or at a slower pace. I show these students some of the equipment and materials that our students use on a daily basis to learn. New City students then come to Ackerman on two different days and spend time in our classrooms assisting our students and becoming friends. The New City fourth-grade students have assisted our students with classroom activities, transitions to different classrooms, art, music and PE classes.

This experience has been life changing for many of these kids. After their visit to Ackerman, it is amazing to hear the conversations the New City School students have about their experience with their Ackerman friends. Over the years, several students have returned to volunteer at Ackerman during our summer school program. I have had one former New City School student coming to help in my classroom for the past five summers. This year, I had another former New City student come to help as her service project for her Bat Mitzvah. The experience with the Ackerman students had an impact on both of these girls.

Ellen Birch is a teacher at Ackerman School of Special School District of St. Louis County. Her children attended New City School. Students who participate have the following disabilities: Autism, Multiple Disabilities, Intellectual Disabilities, Physical Disabilities, Hearing Impairments and Visual Impairments. Funding for the field day is from a Dana Brown Teacher Mini-grant.