It doesn't matter who you are on the outside, it matters what you are on the inside.
During the 2018-19 school year, fourth grade students at Jackson Elementary have participated in The Nora Project, a nationwide initiative that aims to normalize differences and encourage interaction between students and their peers with disabilities.
Fourth grade Jackson students were broken up into teams, and each group had a Nora Friend to get to know throughout the course of the school year.
"What the Nora Project is, is to show that just because you have something, like a diagnosis like autism, doesn't mean that you're different than other people," said Matthew Young, fourth grade student.
"It teaches you that there's no normal because everybody's different in their own unique way," said fourth grade student Katie Cifelli.
During their Nora visit, students spent time together, learning what activities and hobbies their Nora Friend enjoyed and connecting with them on a personal level.
"The NORA project has been a remarkable experience for our students and teachers," said Jackson Elementary Principal Christine Trendel. "Each fourth grader has experienced and practiced friendships with other children that have different ways of communicating as well as different strengths and needs. The impact on our students is tremendous and I know this is a project that they will ever forget. It has truly shown our students that friendship, kindness and empathy have a lasting impact on our world."
"I've learned that it doesn't matter who you are on the outside, it matters what you are on the inside," said fourth-grader James Reidy.
Each Jackson student expressed the hope that the Nora Project would continue at their school in years to come, because the lessons learned from their Nora Friends will last longer than the school year.
"No matter what they look like or how they talk, they're all human and they're all people, so don't disclude them from anything for how they look," said Caden Bialecki, fourth grade student.
"Just because they might look different and act different than you, they're still the same," said Young. "So if you ever pass somebody who has autism or down syndrome, just greet them with a nice smile and say hi, because that could make their day."
Click here to see The Nora Project in action at Jackson Elementary.