Collaborative efforts key at CIRCLE Academy

Former CIRCLE Academy student Michael Reynolds, a 2008 graduate, recently visited his old school, bringing warmth to a cold afternoon

Male school staff member and former student standing across from each other over an office desk and doing a high five
Female school staff member visiting with a former student while sitting in the school cafeteria

Former CIRCLE Academy student Michael Reynolds, a 2008 graduate, recently visited his old school, bringing warmth to a cold afternoon.

“See that big grassy hill over there?” Michael points outside from the classroom window. “I used to love rolling down the hill!”

Michael shared with his former principal, Linda Fox, and other former teachers that he is starting his 16th year with Champaign Unit 4 School District Kids Plus Program, a K-5 before and after-school program. In today’s world, having the same employer for 16 years is rare, yet Michael’s commitment and stability in his position stand out as a testament to his dedication to Kids Plus.

Now 34, Michael lives independently with support from case management services provided by Developmental Services Center. His journey highlights how CIRCLE’s teaching model identifies and builds on each student’s unique needs and strengths.

Arriving at CIRCLE in the 6th grade, Michael benefited from functional, educational, social and life skills programming. He thrived with the step-by-step learning approach, a contrast to his previous school’s fast-paced environment, where “they were teaching too fast.”

“I remember my CIRCLE staff helped me learn and prepare for the constitution test in 9th grade,” Michael said. “I passed with an A.”

While at CIRCLE, Michael also participated in Cunningham’s Vocational Options Program (Options), supporting youth and adults facing emotional and mental health challenges. In Options, he worked at Eastern Illinois Foodbank (EIF), gaining tailored training and real-world experiences. Options staff taught him many essential skills.

“Mr. Ed and Mary (Options staff) taught me things like proper dress code, how to follow directions and take my time, and helped me learn how to do my job step-by-step,” Michael said.

Michael’s visit to campus was just the beginning of his reacquaintance with Cunningham. He also attended Luminaries of Hope and Live Nativity in early December. Impressed by current Options students serving him at Ms. Bonnie’s Cup of Hope, a student-led coffee shop, Michael felt a desire to give back, “because I have a special place in my heart for Cunningham.”

Motivated, he organized a supply drive fundraiser for Cunningham, quickly meeting his goal with donations from co-workers and Facebook friends. He even donated 30+ DVDs from his personal collection.

Michael’s success reflects the collaborative efforts of educators, families and the community in nurturing individual potential—a “full circle” moment for this former CIRCLE student.