In 1999, Circle of Friends was created on the campus of Santa Monica High School in the city of Santa Monica, California, when one student with Down Syndrome was observed sitting alone at lunch. Although he was fully included in general education classes, he was isolated at lunch, a time when all other teenagers on his high school campus were eating with friends. We built a different "circle" of 2-3 non-disabled peers around him daily and he became fully woven into the fabric of his campus…thus began "Circle of Friends." He was no longer isolated, ignored, or invisible…students began saying "hi" as they walked to class and interacted more easily with him.
Circle of Friends started with 12 students…there are now over 400 participants! Because of its success, a non-profit organization was formed to duplicate this program at other sites. The goal is to have more students, both with and without disabilities (and their families), benefit the way our families have benefited in the Santa Monica community.
The first chapter was started at Santa Monica High School and in 2006, Circle of Friends expanded into the San Diego Unified School District. In 2010, there are 52 chapters in CA and two in Portland, OR, positively impacting more that 3800 students.