WHEATON – The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is flooding social media feeds and news headlines, and one Wheaton elementary school has issued a district-wide challenge in honor of a beloved substitute teacher.
On Wednesday, staff at Madison Elementary School joined many others across the country in dumping gallons of water on their heads to raise awareness about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as "Lou Gehrig's disease" or "ALS."
The teachers, like many participants, filmed themselves and challenged others to do the same, donate to an ALS charity or both.
The staff's inspiration was Susan Noll, a former Madison substitute teacher who left the job after being diagnosed with ALS several years ago.
"It's all for Susan," said Madison reading and English Language Learner teacher Mary Jo Witnik. "She had three boys who went to this school and used to sub here all the time. She's just an incredible, incredible person."
Madison fifth-grade teacher Cindi Emma said Noll's first job at the school was during her maternity leave 14 years ago.
Noll was so beloved by students and staff she virtually became a full-time instructor, Emma said.
"Her background is banking by trade and education, but she was such an awesome mom that she made a great sub," she said. "It didn't matter what grade level, it didn't matter if she was a classroom teacher or teaching assistant, she always had such a positive rapport. And she lives in the neighborhood, so she knew a lot of the kids as well."
Last year, Madison staff raised $15,000 at the ALS Association's annual Walk to Defeat ALS at Cantigny Park. It wasn't long after the ice bucket phenomenon took off that they decided to do a challenge video of their own, Witnik said.
She and other teachers brought the staff together in only a day, getting more than two dozen to take the challenge the day before school started.
Principal Tim Callahan was quick to praise the group.
"The Madison staff is just a staff that rallies together to help others," he said. "The minute Mary Jo brought the idea to the staff just yesterday, we knew it was an all-in."
Community Unit District 200's other elementary schools were challenged, along with the School Service Center, incoming Superintendent Jeffrey Schuler and Assistant Superintendent for Business Operations Bill Farley.
As of Thursday, the ALS Association has received $41.8 million in donations since the introduction of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge compared to $2.1 million during the same period last year, according to the nonprofit's website.
Emma said the goal of the Madison staff's participation was to spread awareness about what ALS is and how to get involved in the fight against it, as well as to support their friend and former coworker.
"We're just blessed," she said. "Blessed to know Susan, blessed to be in this building with people who care about each other and care about the kids."
For more information about ALS or the Ice Bucket Challenge, visit www.alsa.org.