NORMAN — This weekend, Moore Norman Technology Center high school students enrolled in Zena Amer’s Career Exploration Education class will travel to Tulsa for state SkillsUSA competition this weekend.
One of their entries however, is much different than the typical written entry and scrapbook that other students will present. Their Community Service entry happens to include the hearts, energy, and well wishes of the students, teachers and staff from Kennedy Elementary School in Norman.
This past fall Amer was approached by a co-worker who told her of Kennedy Elementary’s potential need for assistance with classroom basics. Amer has often worked to boost the efforts of non-profits in Norman, is highly involved with the Cross Timbers Rotary Club and has performed personal projects around the globe such as helping to finish and supply a school in Kenya, and developing a seed project in Columbia and doing service projects in India and Bolivia. For decades, if children in Norman need help, Amer is quick to get involved or develop and organize a solution.
She took a vote of her morning and afternoon students and they overwhelmingly agreed to help and decided to call it the Dare to Make a Difference Project. After getting approval from Kennedy Elementary Principal Montie Koehn, Amer’s classes began going to the school on Wednesdays and Fridays. Morning CEE students offered third and fifth graders assistance with basic reading, spelling, telling time and math concepts. Afternoon CEE students worked with kindergarteners on letters, numbers, basic math and spelling.
“This is the right thing to do. I teach my kids that when they see or learn of a need, they are obligated to fulfill it. These are not wants – these are needs that these children in our community have. We have to help,” Amer said,
Koehn said, “Our initial hope was to give our teachers assistance with meeting the diverse needs of our learners which would help increase the level of student achievement. Not only would this benefit our students, but give the students of MNTC a hands-on experience working with children.
“Our hope was to provide an experience not only to demonstrate the level of commitment it takes to be a teacher, but also show how rewarding it can be when you take the responsibility to help a student improve academically and socially. That hope was fulfilled.”
Amer’s students are accustomed to traveling to and performing volunteer service projects throughout the school year. In addition to their work at Kennedy Elementary, they have held a coat drive for Norman’s Food and Shelter for Friends, participated in the United Way Day of Caring, cooked a chili dinner for Norman Fire and Police members, helped Meals on Wheels, sponsored two families for Christmas and personally funded a Movie Night at Kennedy Elementary where they provided popcorn, snacks, drinks and movies for the children.
Westmoore High School junior Joseph Rooffener said, “I really didn’t think that I’d want to be around really young kids, but this project has totally changed my perception about helping and especially about helping children.”
He explained that Amer taught her CEE classes about writing grants and they then approached First Republic Bank, Arvest Bank and BancFirst, all of Norman, about helping to donate funds for school supplies for Kennedy Elementary.
With the help of each bank and Amer’s organization Assignment Hope and First Republic’s grants, the total funding was just over $600. Meanwhile, Cross Timbers Rotary donated Happy Dollars and CEE students carried smaller piggy banks with them in an effort to collect smaller donations to help with the cause.
NNHS senior Edaan Goldstein led the work on writing the grant and said she was glad to have the opportunity to gain experience doing it.
“I really enjoyed writing the grant, but really, the whole class accomplished it together,”she said/
The donations and grants have allowed CEE students to purchase school supplies like paper, glue sticks and pencils over the weeks and then deliver them to Kennedy Elementary during their visits.
NNHS senior Kayla Spurgeon added that she could sense how teachers could become overwhelmed when there is more happening in their classes outside of children needing to learn basic academic skills.
“I wanted to be involved in the community through service projects, but this was so much more than what I was expecting. Each child has so many things going on; I really felt that I was able to help them, and their teachers,” Spurgeon said.
Goldstein said she helped kindergarteners play games, learn about interaction and work on numbers, shapes and reading, but she also discovered another way to help.
“I would walk in around snack time and I realized that the teacher was buying the snacks for the children herself. I figured that I should also bring snacks to help out, so I did,” she said.
“You cannot imagine the excitement and energy that Montie, her teachers and staff had for my students. It was unbelievable.” Amer said.
For more information about the career exploration education class visit mntechnology.com or call 405-364-576