INDIAN HILL, Ohio -- Indian Hill High School students are taking inclusiveness to new places with a club that brings together students in special needs classes and those who are not. The high school’s Partners’ Club may soon be branching out into lower grade levels and meeting outside school.
Indian Hill’s Partners’ Club, which got its start four years ago, is designed to help students forge relationships with schoolmates, particularly those they may not otherwise get to know.
“It helped me when I was a freshman, to kind of adjust to high school and get to know more of my classmates,” said junior Emily Sheard.
While she got involved in the club hoping to make new friends, one of the things that has brought her back for the third year is the way it brings together students from different backgrounds.
“What I love about the club is that everyone treats each other with respect,” Sheard said.
The club’s officers, who include Sheard and sophomore Brian Lewis, are hoping to bring some new things to the table this school year. Lewis aspires to incorporate activities outside the school, while Sheard hopes to expand the club to other buildings in the district.
Partners’ Clubs, including those offered at younger grade levels, aren’t uncommon in other districts, although the way they’re run can vary from school to school. Loveland and Sycamore both have Partners’ Clubs, and Sycamore has them at the intermediate and junior high level.
At Indian Hill, members – some of whom are in special needs classes and others who are in regular education classes – meet outside class twice a month to do activities together. The activities alternate between physical outlets, like basketball or hula hooping, and classroom-based games and crafts.
“We do different activities every time we have the club,” said sophomore Riley Holt.
From making snowflake decorations to playing tic-tac-toe with pumpkins, many of the activities are centered around holidays.
By being exposed to a variety of activities among friends, students often find themselves more comfortable trying new things.
“They’re more open to things they wouldn’t normally do because of the club,” Lewis said.
For students like Holt, the activities are fun but come second to hanging out with their peers and building relationships.
“I’ve gotten to meet new people, and it’s been a positive impact on me because … if you’re having a bad day, it’s a fun time to forget about everything and just hang out with everyone,” she said.
Other students have shared Holt’s sentiment as well, said Amy Van Strien, one of two faculty advisers for Indian Hill High School’s Partners’ Club.
“I think that’s really special, on an individual level, being able to change someone’s day,” she said.
Whether students are in special needs or regular classes, simply being part of a group can be the key to that change.
“I think belonging is a basic human need,” Van Strien said.
For Lewis, who had previously volunteered at a camp for youths with special needs, it was the ability to uplift others that made him want to be a part of the club.
“I just saw how happy it made everyone feel,” he said.
The impact extends beyond the club, during the school day and other extracurricular activities.
“People are more interactive with everyone they meet,” Lewis said.
Over the past three years, Van Strien has begun to notice students who wouldn’t otherwise know each other talking in the halls and the lunch room. Some students, like Holt, have developed friendships that have carried over outside the club.
“Our hope is that relationships don’t just happen during Partners’ Club,” Van Strien said.