Financial Considerations

Plymouth Christian Launches Connection Groups

Beginning Connection Groups


Group of girls working on jars A Connections group making inspiration quote jars before exchanging their creations with one another.

What is a Connection group? Who is involved?  How do we get students involved? These are all questions that were swirling around in our head last year as we anticipated starting Connection groups for some high school students.
We wanted to help build friendships for those who were struggling with social skills.

After receiving parent permission, we sought out students who would be willing to come alongside a student in a peer group. 

To build a Connection group, you need students who are willing to participate a couple times a month in interacting with other individuals from their class. It is key to find students who are outgoing and interactive, have great social skills, and most importantly, are willing to make friends. When building different groups, it is also important to think about how many students you want per group. We found a great number is about six students, so as to not overwhelm the student in need but yet enough to keep conversation and activities going.  

Preparation


Now is the time to advertise. Connection meetings are fun, safe, eventful, and provide opportunities for learning. Make sure to express these benefits when presenting the idea to the students. Be strategic about choosing the time you meet to not take away from a different activity or event they may want to get involved in. Lunch times are great as long as they don’t overlap with student activities.  

Once you have built groups suitable for students, create a schedule so everyone is on the same page with the times you are meeting. Send out lots of reminders as high school students already have a lot on their plate. Be grateful and show appreciation to those who have signed up.  

Connection Meetings


Boys sitting around tables in classroom Boys playing "Pie in the Face" during a Connections group meeting.

The first meeting is always a ton of fun! Play some introductory games, get to know each other, and share funny stories. Ask the students what they would like to get out of these meetings. Explain to them what meetings will look like and always take feedback.  

Every meeting after that varies based on the students’ need. For example, one of our groups was geared towards someone with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). After a couple meetings, I realized the other students in the group may not fully understand ASD.
With permission and help from the student, we had a meeting where we discussed what ASD is, some struggles the student has, and ways the other students can be supportive. We also talked about how this student loves to create things and look through books in the library, and how they have a great memory.

We than discussed how the student struggled to find something to do at lunch break. After brainstorming, the boys in this group agreed to purposefully involve the student three days a week in whatever activity they were doing, as well as choosing activities this student enjoyed.  

Another group was a bunch of very active boys. To get them to participate, we had to come up with creative and active ideas. At our meetings, we played Minute-to-Win-It and board games, had indoor snowball fights with soft balls and held potlucks, just to name a few.  

Boys eating in a classroom A Connections group eating McDonalds together during lunch.

Learning Together



Along with each fun meeting, we always tried to incorporate a lesson. If there was an incident that happened at school, or if we knew of an ongoing struggle for students, the meetings were the perfect way to indirectly or directly discuss these issues. We would also use this time to come up with an action plan.  

After one year of incorporating Connection groups into our high school, we still have much to learn. However, we have also received some great feedback! Parents have commented about how they felt Connections was a great thing for their child. Also, there was a noticeable difference with involvement of students outside the Connection groups.  During noon hour, students did not wander the halls as frequently, and staff heard stories of how students  worked together as a group for a class project. For some students these are big accomplishments; these stories are very rewarding to hear! Students of all abilities enjoyed their participation in the groups: 
"I like the talks, the games and food and how Mrs. VanDijk encouraged me to work hard on my friendships. Also I liked the advice on what the other kids could do to help me. It helped me get a little bit more social." 

“Connections group was a great experience for me. Not only was it a nice break from my usually busy schedule, but it introduced me to people that, without this group, I probably wouldn't have gotten to know even half as well as I did. Also, it was a great balance of fun games, crafts, but also serious discussions. My favorite part of all of these was the fact that you could be yourself and share how you felt without feeling like you weren't accepted or that people were judging you”
“Connections group was a great experience! It helped me to be able to talk freely to other girls about their and my struggles, experiences, and how we all were doing as a whole. The group was like a safe, so girls like me could open up about their struggles and experiences without getting mocked or laughed at, which was super awesome! The sessions always had fun activities or discussions to draw girls in. Overall it was a really great experience!!!” 

“I enjoyed the fact that we could have some heart to heart conversations, and that we could just hang out and talk or do some FUN activities together. What I learned in Connections Group is that "Communication is Key," and that any friendship must be one of communication. Connections Group helped me with my friendships in this way, it helped me understand  when we (maybe) did not agree. Also, it helped me STOP and LISTEN to what they had to say FIRST. Then, say what I was going to say. But also NOT interrupt them.”

We are looking forward to launching Connection groups again this year at our high school!  


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Rachael VanDijk is an Educational Student Support Program aide at Plymouth Christian High School (Grand Rapids, MI), where she leads Connection groups.