By Audrey Seilheimer
Special education teacher Amy Green, who retired from Schoolcraft Community Schools at the end of the school year, left a legacy of building a culture and program which fosters care and kindness between students from different experiences to create a “Common Bond.”
This program created a club which meets every month or so for a social party together or to participate in a community service activity. The club offers students a no-pressure environment to get to know one another through simple activities and fun breaks after school. It includes snacks or games, or an interactive activity to help build empathy and bonds between students and their understanding and care of one another.
The program highlight this spring was the Common Bond Superhero Parade which marched on May 11, 2023 and involved volunteers, staff members, principals and Schoolcraft Superintendent Rick Frens, all dressing up as various superhero characters to demonstrate different sets of skills and expertise. They presented themselves to the different student age groups at each building to show how every individual is unique with a specific set of talents and skills.
After gathering indoors to meet the superheroes, they headed outdoors to march in a procession to the lower elementary building and soccer fields. The Kalamazoo Corvette Club also joined them to transport each superhero in style along the way. The marching band and the elementary Girls on the Run teams preceded them out to the field.
Andee Sampley, who retired from teaching for Schoolcraft Schools last year, said Amy Green has been the heart of this impactful program since its formation. She believes it sets a Schoolcraft standard with its unique, encouraging and caring culture.
She wore her Common Bond T-shirt to the event and wanted to be there to honor Green’s last year with the original team who has worked so hard on this program. She brought along her infant grandson, Oliver, who wore a tiny Hulk onesie.
“Common Bond is an amazing program where we can get kids together and they can do fun things outside of school in spite of any differences,” Andee said. “This has been Amy’s heart forever and it shows— she is so incredible! She’s the type of person we need more of in this world. I’ve been so lucky to know and to work with her.
“Even after kids graduate, there are groups that get together from Common Bond and still meet up because it’s had that much of an impact,” Sampley added. “There’s even a group in their 30’s that still see each other when they can. All of my kids participated in the program and it’s a place where they could just have fun without social pressure, which is rare.”
The program is open to any student. They are not required to attend each event, so it works around their schedule, whether it be with sports or other activities. Green has worked to grow the program since its inception over decades by gathering donations and has written and won grants to help support the program. In previous years the program has hosted local football star Greg Jennings for the students to meet, and students say there is always an element of anticipation to see what Ms. Green and her team have planned. The program forms connections in mentorships between students at different skill levels with these inspirational shared experiences.
High School Spanish teacher, Kary Mack has worked for several different school districts, and said she’s never seen a program quite like the Common Bond program, sponsored by a special education department.
“The goal with these parties is to have them be all-access and invite all students so that it’s truly inclusive and allows kids at different points in their journey to meet up and share this common experience. Students from special education and general education meet up, and the name says it all! We all have this common bond and it’s really a unifying culture that has been created. The Superhero parade is great way to celebrate all the accomplishments of this past year and to really come together in recognition of what it means to be a community.”
Mack said, “It’s my understanding that this program would not exist without Amy Green, and she is an incredibly humble leader. She’s the type of leader we need in every walk of life in every aspect of education. She doesn’t do it for her—it is all about making an impact. It’s all about the kids, all of the time for Amy. It’s about our bond that we have together as a school community. Anyone who participates has no idea the amount of time and effort Amy has put in. For the kids it is “the cool place to be” and participate in and that is because of how she has designed it. It is the right thing to do and that’s why the kids participate. The climate and culture here is very different. It’s not “those kids” (referring to special education,) and us. It’s one of the reasons why I feel strongly as a parent not just as an educator that I want to be here in this environment. We are one. We are one common group and you see that reflected in the student’s behavior, and in their understanding of each other.
You see our general education kids looking out for our special education kids. It gives them the low-stakes, no-stress environment to socialize and socially interact, which is exactly what kids need in this technologically driven time we’re living in in 2023. They see each other as human beings, which is ultimately the thing we need in this world.”
Ms. Green reflected on the event afterward. “Common Bond has been an avenue for over 25 years for students of all abilities to come together and just blend in being kids. No one has to feel like they’re different. The hope is that as we talk about what all of the common bonds are that we share with others, students will take these messages back into our hallways and help encourage a culture of acceptance and kindness. Another great purpose that has evolved over the years at Common Bond is how our staff come to our events and participate alongside our “Bonders”. This allows students to see staff outside of the classroom and build relationships with students they may not have had in class. Whether we have 15 students attend an event, or 200, the message of kindness is always the same.”
By Audrey Seilheimer