LA GRANGE – Helping children understand how to be a friend and accept those who may be different than them is a priority in La Grange Elementary School District 102 and the driving force behind expansion of its involvement in the NORA Project.
The NORA Project began when the mother of a child with a disability asked a teacher to help the other children be understanding of her daughter, Nora. That teacher brought the request to the administration, and Assistant Superintendent Terry Sofianos Wohlgenant was there to sign it.
That was at Sofianos Wohlgenant’s previous district, and when she came to District 102, it already was involved in the growing project.
“I want to stress that this is so important and popular in our school district because of the educators and parents in the district,” Sofianos Wohlgenant said. “I think it has so ignited this passion for acceptance and awareness.”
With all four elementary buildings in the district having implemented the NORA Project in some way, Sofianos Wohlgenant said the district has developed a strong partnership with the nonprofit organization.
One of the programs already implemented in the schools is the flagship program, which teaches students in as early as third grade how to foster friendships with students with disabilities.
Alex Parker has been teaching the flagship program this year to his group of third-graders and said their compassion has inspired him to continue pushing the program forward.
“The buy-in from the class, I mean, they love every single piece of the project, it’s amazing,” Parker said. “It’s almost like it’s inherent to who they are, and there’s a light in them to do this.”
Parker said the district already has grown so much in the project, and he is excited to see where things go.
Sofianos Wohlgenant said the district plans to begin implementing the Primer Pack, a component of the NORA Project that will focus on first- and second-grade students. This addition is a social and emotional learning program aimed at teaching children what it means to be a good friend with a slant about disability awareness, she said.
“It’s about looking at developing an understanding of yourself,” Sofianos Wohlgenant said. “It’s a feel-good thing because we all want to live by inclusivity, and this gives educators, students and parents a way to do that.”
Sofianos Wohlgenant said her hope is that the NORA Project and District 102 become so effortlessly linked that people outside the district begin to wonder if this is just part of District 102.
Additional programs include efforts by the district that extend beyond the NORA project, including the parent ambassador program which Sofianos Wohlgenant said compliments NORA in a way that highlights both programs. She said it is the educators, faculty, staff, parents and kids that have made the project as expansive and influential as it is.
“I love my job and my district, and to add this is just the icing on the cake,” Parker said. “This is single-handedly the greatest thing I’ve been part of. It’s been life-changing.”