The Nora Project Comes to JCC Chicago
Imagine this scenario taking place in your child’s preschool classroom: One teacher, Shari, asked a child to join her in front of the class in her morning meeting. She brought Legos to build with this child, together. Another teacher, Annie, came over and asked if she could join in. Shari turned her back to her, covered the Legos, and said “no.” At the same time, the child said “sure.” Shari then said to the child, “We don’t want to play with her; we want to play alone.” The child looked very confused.
The other children started to chime in with “That’s not ok,” and “Why are you being mean?” Shari turned to the class and asked, “Isn’t it ok for me to say she can’t play?” They yelled “no.” She asked why? “We include everyone,“ and “That’s not inclusive,” the children told her.
They never said anything to the other teacher directly; they advocated for her with their objections to the exclusionary behavior.
This powerful exercise illustrates an organic approach to teaching inclusion which is one of the goals of The Nora Project. The Nora Project is an award-winning curriculum that “allows students to explore disability, adaptation and friendship in exciting and innovative ways.”
This school year, JCC Chicago Early Childhood at Am Shalom was chosen to be one of a select few early childhood programs to rollout the Nora Project before it expands nationwide. According to their website, thenoraproject.ngo: “Nora, the namesake of this project, was born weighing one pound, underwent five surgeries before she turned two, and now, at four-years-old, she inspires with her silly giggle and tenacious determination. The Nora Project wants you to know all the Noras–children with disabilities whose stories matter and teach us the value of empathy and inclusion.”
There are three fundamental goals of the Nora Project:
- Teaching students the beliefs and behaviors underlying the practice of empathy;
- Creating fun, inclusive social experiences for students with disabilities; and
- Building communities of kindness and support for students of all abilities.
The child who was included in the earlier exercise is a strong minded, resilient and very vocal child. He knows Shari well and later in the day when she had a quiet moment, she apologized for not telling him beforehand and asked how he felt being part of the exercise. He said, “That’s ok, Shari. I was surprised you could be so mean.”
Teaching empathy, inclusion and kindness is part of our Sheva framework at JCC Chicago Early Childhood and The Nora Project curriculum ties in beautifully. Our school community respects and honors everyone’s uniqueness, diversity is embraced, and inclusion is a priority.
Director, JCC Chicago Early Childhood at Am Shalom