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D-70 to partner with special needs students

LIBERTYVILLE – Libertyville School District 70 students will partner with students with disabilities this fall in a special yearlong program expected to create lifelong friendships and enriched empathy skills.

Third- through fifth-graders at Adler Park, Butterfield, Copeland Manor and Rockland schools will open their classrooms in the 2018-19 school year to students with physical and emotional disabilities and challenges in a new initiative with The Nora Project.

District 70 is looking to buddy up with at least 15 special needs students for classrooms where teachers want to teach the Nora Project curriculum. Families must be able to transport their children with disabilities, between the ages of 4 and 13, to and from the school for the program.

“D-70 is committed to increasing awareness, kindness and empathy among students while expanding inclusive opportunities for students with disabilities,” Dr. Chris Otto, District 70’s director of special services, said in a news release. “Seeing commonality in our goals, the D-70 Special Services Partnership Project, a committee consisting of district staff and parents, has pursued collaboration with The Nora Project.”

The Nora Project, created by Glenview teacher Amanda Martinsen, incorporates lessons on disabilities into the English and Language Arts curriculum and invites special education students as “guests” into a classroom during the school day several times a year. Martinsen created the program after her prematurely born niece, Nora, suffered brain damage after a corrective surgery and Martinsen was looking for a way to help.  

The project’s mission is to teach empathy by sparking friendships between students and their peers with disabilities. Students work together through a variety of resources, discussions, interviews, and classroom play dates.

In the end, students compile what they’ve captured through photographs and videos to create a mini-documentary about each “Nora Friend.”

“It’s no longer in dispute that for students to be prepared for life, schools need to take time to focus on their social-emotional skills and well-being,” said Laura Schrero Levy, president of The Nora Project and Nora’s devoted mother. “There are so many wonderful ways to do that. The Nora Project takes a unique approach that’s fun for teachers and impactful for students. We use inclusion as a tool to promote friendships, the project allows students to talk about emotions, about values, and about their potential to connect with others and do good.”

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