WEST ORANGE, NJ -  Fifth graders at Gregory Elementary School had a life-changing experience on March 7 when they had the opportunity to experience life as "Melody," the main character of author Sharon Draper's new book "Out of My Mind".

Melody is a fictional fifth grader, a brilliant student with a photographic memory whose mind is always at work. Melody also has cerebral palsy, and she cannot walk or talk. With the help of Cerebral Palsy of North Jersey, an organization committed to helping children and young adults with disabilities and other special needs by supporting personal growth, independence and participation in the community, Gregory School fifth graders had the opportunity to experience life as a child like Melody.

Physical, speech and occupational therapists from Cerebral Palsy New Jersey (CPNJ) helped students as they tried to answer questions without speaking, identify items without seeing, and move objects with limited motions. 

Sign Up for E-News

Prior to CPNJ's visit, students read Sharon Draper's book about Melody and learned that despite the physical differences, they had a lot in common with a girl that struggled with many of the same issues that they did. In the process, they also learned to appreciate the unique challenges that special needs children have. In the simple exercise of putting themselves in someone else's shoes, the students were able to empathize with a peer that would appear to be very different from them.

Later this month, a small group of students will visit CPNJ’s Horizon School and have the opportunity to interact with children with CP and other conditions. One fifth grade mother observed that while Melody often felt lonely and misunderstood at school, now she has many more friends – all the Gregory school fifth grade readers.

Said Gregory school principal Michele Thompson, "After their visit to Horizon, they will return with many more."

For more information on Sharon Draper and her book, visit http://sharondraper.com/.

To find out more about Cerebral Palsy of North Jersey, visit http://cpnj.org/.