The Nora Project at Glen Grove School
Amanda Martinsen is a 5th grade teacher at Glen Grove Elementary School in Glenview District 34 who designed and implemented The Nora Project, a school-wide, year-long project for 5th grade students to learn about various physical and emotional conditions of marginalized, misunderstood children, and to build friendships with these children.The Nora Project helps students build awareness, understanding, and empathy for physical and emotional conditions such as Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism, and brain injuries.
The project grew out of a conversation with Amanda’s cousin, whose daughter, Nora, was born more than 4 months prematurely, and whose left brain was damaged during surgery. Nora was later diagnosed with West Syndrome, a disabling form of epilepsy. Nora’s mother was concerned that her child’s disabilities would prevent her from ever making friends. She wanted other children to know Nora’s special story, and the special stories of others like her. Amanda knew that with guidance and direction, the fifth graders at her school could tell these stories with understanding and empathy. Amanda set out to find a way for her students to learn the stories of children like Nora, building compassion, understanding and, ultimately, friendships with children with disabilities. She thought that her students had not had any meaningful opportunity to build friendships with children who have special needs, and she wanted to change this.
Amanda brainstormed engaging and relevant ways for her students to learn about this topic and engage with these children. Her brainstorm quickly developed into a rough design of a year long project, broken into 5 phases that integrated the reading, writing, and social emotional learning standards. Students would gather information based on their interactions with these children, as well as from the children’s family members and friends, to share a child’s story in the form of a documentary. A film festival is held at the end of the school year to showcase the documentaries.
Amanda’s tireless dedication and passion for this project has inspired the entire 5th grade team and its students. Parents of the children recruited for this project have been brought to tears knowing that Amanda is advocating for their children and striving to carve out a better life for them – a life filled with friendship.
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