It started with a little girl named Nora. Nora was born prematurely with many different health issues and developmental delays. (You can watch a video about Nora here.) In a plea from Nora’s mother to her cousin, 5th grade teacher Amanda Martinsen, she asked Amanda to educate her students about children with special needs so that they might understand and appreciate those differences. And that’s how The Nora Project began.
Taken from The Nora Project website: “The Nora Project is a fourth and fifth grade project which aims to build awareness, understanding, empathy, and relationships with and around physical and emotional conditions such as down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism, and brain injuries. Often, students have heard these terms, but they don’t actually understand what they mean and have not had the meaningful opportunity to build a friendship with a child who has one of these conditions. We want to change this.”
The fourth and fifth grade students at Glen Grove Elementary School, along with their incredibly dedicated teachers, worked with 21 different special needs students and produced a documentary for each one of the families.
The Glen Grove students interviewed each child’s family members, teachers, and loved ones and compiled video clips and photographs. Throughout the year, the school and area businesses hosted play dates and activities in order for the fourth and fifth graders to get to know their new friends. It was a year-long project that ended with a World Premiere open to the 21 stars of the documentaries, the students, and all of the family and friends that could fit in the Glen Grove gym, which came complete with a red carpet.
Loved the little photo booth that was set up!
Each of the “stars” names were posted on the stage. I attended as a guest of Owen.
It was so neat to see the kids who worked on the documentaries rush to greet the “stars” as they entered the room.
(I didn’t see Mary Cate – but I saw her star!)
The school gym was soon packed to a standing-room-only capacity, and the Nora Project was introduced and explained at length, along with Nora’s personal story and video.
The documentaries were assigned different classrooms throughout the school, and the students led us to them.
Once in the classroom, the Nora Project documentaries were introduced by the students, and as the videos played, the tissue box soon made its way around the room.
When the video was finished, the students presented Owen with his own mini-Oscar, and he handed out thank you notes of his own.
And then there were lots of pictures and heartfelt hugs.
I was only able to witness the events in Owen’s room – but the obvious connection and care that the students had for Owen was pretty incredible. I have no doubt that the other classroom interactions were just as special and emotional.
I hope that The Nora Project continues to grow and expand to other schools and communities. It is an incredible way to complete educational objectives while teaching students about differences and promoting kindness and understanding. These are the kind of lessons that will stay with students for the rest of their lives.
For more information, The Nora Project website has a link to a contact form at the bottom for educators interested in using the program in their schools, or for parents interested in having their child with special needs documented.
Links to all 21 documentaries can be found here: The Nora Project Documentaries
Here’s a link to the Chicago Tribune news article for more information and an interview with Nora’s parents and teacher Amanda Martinsen: “The Nora Project helps Glen Grove students build relationships…”