2020 Grants Challenge

Circle of Friends for LA Students

Circle of Friends (CoF) provides support and strategies for K-12 educators who work with students experiencing social isolation due to disability or other challenges. Starting with weekly lunches and meaningful activities, students of all abilities and backgrounds develop awareness and acceptance of differences through genuine friendships. CoF participants model leadership as they become allies and advocates for marginalized students, increasing school safety and reducing bullying.


In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

LAUSD (please select only if you have a district-wide partnership or project)

In what stage of innovation is this project?

Expand existing program

Please list the organizations collaborating on this proposal.


If you are submitting a collaborative proposal, please describe the specific role of partner organizations in the project.

As a collaborative partner, Los Angeles Unified School District will

* Select the local district and schools participating

* Identify onsite CoF Advisors to attend training and be members of the Inclusion Task Force

* Arrange coverage and meeting spaces for professional development, planning and meetings

* Be responsible for keeping records of participation, surveys and other documentation for evaluation purposes.

What is the need you’re responding to?

Nationally, 1 in 5 students has a disability or behavioral or developmental disorder that may be trauma-related, and spend 80% of the day in general education classrooms. 33.1% of students reported being bullied in 2019, a 5% increase since 2016. Students with disabilities are 2-3 times more likely to be bullied and may avoid school. 83% of general education teachers report that credential programs and training has not prepared them to work with students with disabilities or teach social-emotional skills. Each year, 8% of US teachers leave the classroom before retirement age due to dissatisfaction with support and classroom conditions.

CoF’s School Inclusion Program addresses the social-emotional needs and safety of each student by providing strategies and support for educators to improve student engagement, teacher morale, and school climate.

Why is this project important to the work of your organization?​

Circle of Friends partnered with LAUSD from 2015-2018 to develop school inclusion programs and an internal team of trainers. While CoF sites expanded from 10-28 during this time, structural and staffing changes have made it difficult to sustain. Parent concerns about safety and chronic absenteeism for students with disabilities have increased. CoF’s Executive Director has met with LAUSD Parent Center Directors, and they want to bring our program to their schools. LAUSD’s 2017-2019 Action Plan for Achieving Breakthroughs in Outcomes for Students with Disabilities identified inclusion as a goal, establishing pilot sites across the district. Several LAUSD schools want to implement CoF, but the LAUSD trainers do not have the capacity to work with them. With schools closed until the summer or fall as a result of the Coronavirus, many students and teachers will need supports more than ever. Circle of Friends would love to be part of bringing inclusion back to school

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this proposal?​

Direct Impact: 90

Indirect Impact: 750

Please describe the broader impact of your proposal.

By experiencing authentic inclusion, students will develop an understanding that we all have strengths and we all need support. Human diversity will be valued and inclusion will be an expectation as they move through their lives. These students are the citizens, neighbors, employees and employers of the next generation.

We have seen how toxic fear and prejudice have become. For many, school is the first community we belong to outside of our family, so it is the perfect place for children to safely experience and bridge difference. A recent dissertation included interviews with many former CoF members who are now in their 20s, and they said that it changed the way they saw themselves and the world.

Please explain how you will define and measure success for your project.

Through Circle of Friends’ School Inclusion Program, students build key social emotional skills like self-regulation, compassion, problem-solving and patience. These Students will be empowered to create a school where everyone belongs and is valued.

CoF will use our current pre-post program survey with school advisors, administrators and parents. Advisors will complete annual surveys to record demographics and the impact of inclusion on participants with disabilities, expansion of social skills and participation with peers in extracurricular activities. Evaluation of nondisabled peers will reflect their understanding and acceptance of differences. We will develop a project planning log for students that includes a reflection component that can be written or videotaped.

As students attend or participate in meetings, assemblies and activities, we will use social media to track their reflections and growth via Twitter, Instagram.

Short-term: We will track how many students attend CoF events in the spring and how many additional students participate in CoF in the fall. Schools can also track attendance and suspension records and the California School Climate and Safety Survey results.

Long-term: Increased student initiative and advocacy will result in more sustainability and deeper schoolwide impact.

Which of the LEARN metrics will your submission impact?​

Suspension and expulsion rates

K-8 chronic absenteeism

Opportunity youth (“Disengaged youth” 16-24 not working or in school)

Which of LA2050’s resources will be of the most value to you?​

Access to the LA2050 community

Communications support

Strategy assistance and implementation