Lessons from a Holocaust Survivor, Earth Day Activities and District 99 Grants

The latest news from our schools.

St. Mary of Gostyn School

Holocaust Survivor Speaks to Students

St. Mary's eighth-grade students heard the lessons of their World War II unit brought to life when Holocaust survivor Janine Oberrotman accepted social studies teacher Maureen Drabik's invitation to speak to the class.

As a young teenager in Poland, Oberrotman saw her world fall apart when the German army occupied her hometown of Lvov in 1941. Her life stories, including losing her father in a concentration camp and being separated from her mother, really hit home with the students.

“Mrs. Oberrotman’s story had a big impact on me and reading about it in a book just would not have been the same,” said student Sean L. “Hearing the stories from her made the experience more real for me.”

Identified as Jewish by her Star of David armband, the young Oberrotman feared "roundups," when people were carried off to concentration camps or worse. German soldiers entered her house at will, demanding furniture and other valuable items, she said.

Under German occupation, education for Jewish people was forbidden so Oberrotman studied her few remaining textbooks at home. She was thrilled to find a teacher, even though she had no money to pay her, and the penalty for being caught was death. Her education was short-lived when her teacher disappeared in a roundup.

“My teacher gave me hope,” Oberrotman said wistfully. “While the Germans were trying to dehumanize the Jews, my teacher made me feel like a normal person.”

To escape the roundups, Oberrotman huddled in cramped and uncomfortable hiding places, underneath clay roads and under floorboards, covered by furniture and with the constant fear of being caught. “Her story shocked me because she did everything to survive,” said student Matt V. “She hid in places I would have such a hard time being in for that amount of time.”

Today, Oberrotman works as a docent at the Illlinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center in Skokie. “It was a terrible time. I want to make sure the new generation knows about it (the Holocaust), so today’s young people can look for symptoms and signs in the future,” she said.

Eighth-grader Madison U. appreciated the opportunity to learn from history, saying, “Although some people try to ignore what happened, hearing her story will only encourage us to help prevent another tragedy like that.”

Oberrotman’s message affected the St. Mary’s teenagers. “Mrs. Oberrotman’s story was sad, but hopeful,” said Michaela B. “I realize how blessed I am in my life, not just with material things, but also with my family, friends and my life.”

“Her talk was very inspirational,” said Hannah H. “It made me want to live my life the way she did with intelligence, strength and thanksgiving.”

District 58

Belle Aire Collects Trash for Cash

Belle Aire’s PTA has been collecting difficult-to-recycle and non-recyclable items since last fall, but they pulled out all the stops with a Trash for Cash push during Earth Week.

During that week, they collected 467 juice pouches, more than 21 pounds of food storage containers, 44 pieces of diaper packaging and more than a dozen used tape dispenser rolls. Not only will they be kept out of landfills and re-used, but the Belle Aire PTA gets two cents for each item donated, according to PTA environmental committee co-chair Kristi Kattapong.

The items were sent to Terracycle, a national company that makes new green consumer products out of post-consumer materials, such as backpacks created from juice pouches. Terracycle takes in some 100 materials that would normally get thrown in the trash.

“It went very well, I think. We were really excited about it,” Kattapong said, adding that Trash for Cash was  a community effort.

The school partnered with Kindercare on Highland, Kindercare on Fairview and Bright Horizons Family Solutions during Earth Week to collect crinkly plastic diaper packaging; both Kindercare locations also offered to continue collecting the materials indefinitely. Good Samaritan Health and Wellness Center also served as a drop-off location for recycled materials during Earth Week, Kattapong said.

In addition, several local businesses donated prizes to encourage participation in Trash for Cash. Play it Again Sports and Sports Authority donated gift cards, and Jewel-Osco on Ogden gave tote bags, Kattapong said.

Other Earth Week activities at Belle Aire included hosting speakers from the School and Community Assistance for Composting and Recycling Education (SCARCE); a gym shoe collection; Walk to School Day; Waste-Free Lunch Day, and a playground clean-up.

In addition, the projects created during April through the school’s Art Awareness program, in which parent volunteers come to the school to conduct art classes with students, made use of recycled materials. These projects were displayed during the school’s open house, and some will be hung up at Great American Bagel this fall, Kattapong said.

Kattapong thanked Belle Aire Principal Mike Mitchinson for his support of the program, and also Art Awareness Coordinator Vicki McGrath, who facilitated the recycled art projects.

Fairmount Flowers Under Kindergartners' Care

Kindergartners at Fairmount School  have been learning about how to properly care for the environment, and warm spring weather has allowed them to put their lessons into practice by planting flowers at the school entrance.

“It’s part of our social studies program here in District 58 to take care of our earth,” teacher Barbara Potocki said. The planting project was part of the kindergartner's green campaign, for which they've read environmental books, learned about the “three Rs” (reduce, re-use and recycle), took care of the schoolyard, and discovered other things they can do to help the environment such as encouraging their families to bike or walk instead of driving. 

They also planted trees last fall as part of a science unit and have been taking care of them all year, even going on a “winter walk” to check on their well-being. 

Highland School Celebrates "Power of One"

Every year, Highland School adopts a theme under which staff members are recognized for their positive contributions; this year’s theme is “The Power of One,” and for the first time, students also are being honored.

“One person can make a difference with their ideas and ways to make our school
even better,” said Principal Judy Kmak.

Every month, one student was recognized at a school-wide assembly and in the
school’s newsletter for his or her positive contributions to the school community.

These included reaching out to a classmate having a bad day, going above and
beyond with lunchroom cleanup, welcoming a new family to the school, and
spending recess cleaning the playground. Nominations came from Highland staff members.

Highland students who earned Power of One recognition during the 2010-11
school year were: Blake Varsolona, 4th grade; Marshall Kinnunen, 3rd grade; Caleb Schmurr, 6th grade; Julia Kramper, 4th grade; Dianna Ibarra, 5th grade; Lilianna Schmurr, 2nd grade; Owen Nystrom, 2nd grade, and Cora Lingenfelter, 1st grade

District 99

Education Foundation to Award Grants, Scholarship

 The District 99 Education Foundation  will give away $15,350 in grants this month to fund technology and other needs at North and South high schools.

The grant recipients will be recognized at the District 99 School Board meeting on at 7 p.m., Monday, May 16, at South High, 1436 Norfolk St. 

“We are thrilled to be able to fund these very deserving grant requests,” said Eric Olson, education foundation president. “Our foundation members know how crucial it is to incorporate new technology into the classroom, because it ultimately increases student learning.”  

 “The amount of research and thoughtfulness that went into the teacher grant requests was impressive,” said Ken Rathje, Grant Committee chair. “We are empowering these teachers to take their profession to the next level of excellence.” 

Each year, the foundation accepts grant requests from District 99 teachers who want to make the classroom more challenging to students, but lack the necessary resources. Grants in 2011 will be awarded to support the following projects:

  • SMART Board implementations in the Career and Technical Education department at South and in the Social Studies department at North.
  • Classroom response systems (clickers) in the English and Communication department at South.
  • Document cameras for the World Languages department at South.
  • Digital photography specialty lenses for the Fine Arts department at South.
  • Advanced classroom response systems for formative and summative assessment for the Mathematics and Social Studies departments at North.
  • An accessible walkway for the courtyard therapy garden for the Special Services department at North. 

The foundation also will award the first District 99 Education Foundation Math and Science Scholarship to Tyler Vizek. Vizek will receive a $5,000 scholarship to study Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University. 


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