As an elementary and middle school teacher, Tom Joustra is no stranger to the unique needs of people, especially children. This author spotlight highlights his experience with inclusive models of education and how that has influenced his approach to Bible studies like TOGETHER. For Tom, it’s clear that immense growth occurs when people with intellectual disability are welcomed into community.
I got involved with Friendship Ministries through Barb Newman. She is a colleague of mine at Zeeland Christian School, and she is also very invested in Friendship Ministries and an integral part of the new TOGETHER curriculum. She approached me at school a few summers ago and explained the vision behind the new curriculum. She asked if I would be interested in submitting a sample lesson plan, which, if it “passed the test,” could lead to future authorship of a TOGETHER unit. Well, I guess I “passed” because I was asked to write the lessons for the Jesus: Face to Face unit, which is currently available through Friendship Ministries.
What motivates me when I write lessons for TOGETHER is the fact that I’ve seen inclusion work at my school. I currently teach 4th grade at Zeeland Christian School, but I have also taught third, fifth, and sixth grades during my years there. My first year at ZCS was the year that we embarked on this “thing” called Inclusive Education where students with varying levels of special needs and abilities are immersed in the regular education classrooms for a good chunk of the day. Throughout my 28 years at ZCS, I’ve seen the benefits of inclusion for the students with disabilities–but also for the regular education kids. If it can work in a school classroom setting, then it can definitely work in a church setting as well. It all has to do with valuing the unique contributions that EACH person can make to a community…whether it be at school or church.
I have written three units for TOGETHER in the last two years: Jesus: Face to Face, Acts: Living in Community, and Covenant: The Long Haul God. The Jesus unit is currently available and discusses the benefits of a relationship with Jesus Christ. The Acts unit, which will be available soon, reminds participants that they are part of God’s family and encourages them to live in a certain way so that the family of God can be the best it can be. And the Covenant unit, which I just submitted last month, helps group members to recall and celebrate the promises that God the Father gives to each of his sons and daughters…he is not only a promise-maker, but he’s also a promise-keeper.