Students Reach Out to 'Sister School'

Like many people across the country, special education majors at Northern were motivated to take action in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. They had discussed traditional fundraising measures as an academic service learning project for their ED 400 class, but decided a long-term commitment would fill the palpable void anticipated after the initial flurry of support to the region had tapered off.

The students voted to "adopt" a school for the entire academic year. After an online search of impacted facilities and some phone calls, they settled on Bayou Woods Elementary. It has an enrollment of 500 students in grades K-3 and is located in Slidell, La., about a half-hour west of New Orleans.

"The Northern students were shocked to learn that most Louisiana schools have not yet received much in the way of aid or federal funding," said Kathy Heikkila (Education). "Many of the supplies sent to areas affected by the hurricane are still sitting in warehouses all over the south. The children are attending school, but many are still distracted for much of the day by missing classmates, personal belongings and school supplies. For many students, school is the only thing that is constant in their lives."

In an effort to help return a sense of normalcy to the youngsters' lives, the NMU class has been collecting needed items and setting up pen pals at Marquette schools for the Bayou Woods students. Superior Hills Elementary students have sent letters and drawings about Upper Peninsula culture. Students from Aspen Ridge and Marquette Senior High School have sent letters of encouragement. The NMU field work students at Superior Hills have also set up a children's book drive.

"Public school children in Louisiana wear uniforms that consist of khaki pants and polo shirts. The students have sent about 100 sets of clothing down there, along with other school supplies," Heikkila added. "Beyond that, the teachers there are also looking for assistance with lesson plans and other ideas to help the kids adjust to some of the major issues they're dealing with. For example, a counselor called and asked if we could think of a way to address the loss of pets. The NMU students came up with a lesson plan and collected children's books that deal with loss and grief. It's been a valuable learning experience for them."

The sister school relationship will continue throughout the year, as photos and letters are exchanged. For more information, or to join the effort, please contact Heikkila at


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Updated: December 1, 2005

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