Cassera was named the "Paraprofessional of the Year," and Ritzel was recognized as the "Educator of the Year" within ASAH's Region I. They will vie for statewide recognition at ASAH's annual conference next fall.
Going Above and Beyond
Since starting at ECLC, Cassara has worked with some of our most involved students as a paraprofessional, floater aide, substitute teacher and job coach. She has a gift for making students feel good about themselves and excels at motivating them. For example, she devised a picture system to go along with the reading program, so that a student with selective mutism could communicate her answers and demonstrate progress. She also created Touch Math number aids for students to keep at home and use to complete their homework assignments. Outside the classroom, she has served as the co-chair for the Ho-Ho-Kus gala dinner the past four years, participates in Autism Speaks walks, cheers on students at Special Olympics competitions and much more.
Ritzel is a multi-talented teacher. She manages all state-required testing for the entire schools, ensuring everything meets regulations, and teaches language arts enrichment, a program she designed that blends language arts with art. The interweaving of these two disciplines comes naturally to Ritzel, who is a lifelong writer and crafter in her spare time. Another example of her creativity is the yearbook. She created a new design, doubled the size of the book, added beautiful full-color pages and began offering a DVD version. She also creates amazing backdrops for shows and graduations, snaps pictures at nearly every school event, and she coordinated students to create friendship placemats, mobiles and wall hangings for patients at Englewood Hospital on Valentine's Day.
Brandy Springer seems to do it all. As an occupational therapist at ECLC of New Jersey's school for children with special needs, Springer provides individualized therapy sessions for a large caseload of students every day. She created and teaches an afterschool yoga program and incorporates yoga into the classroom and therapy. She manages special sensory diets for dozens of students. She is a regular speaker at education conferences around the state, and she provides workshops for ECLC parents, covering topics, such as sensory integration, stress reduction and feeding and nutrition.
In addition to her many professional achievements, Springer embodies her sunny name. Like the season following winter, Springer lights up the room with her radiant smile and her warm personality can thaw the frostiest of hearts.
Those professional and personal qualities, coupled with her dedication and hard work, have brought Springer to the top of her profession as a school occupational therapist. She has been named New Jersey's "Related Services Provider of the Year" by ASAH, a nonprofit that represents 135 private, special education schools and agencies serving students with disabilities across the state. Each year, the honor goes to an outstanding occupational therapist, physical therapist, social worker, nurse, speech therapist, counselor or psychologist at one of ASAH's member schools or agencies. Winners were chosen at the regional level, and then an overall state winner was selected during the ASAH conference in Atlantic City on Nov. 15. See the press release on Springer's achievement.
ECLC has been on a winning streak with ASAH state awards for many years. Back in 2006, Sandy Wechsler, won for "Related Services Provider of the Year," and that same year, Neal Watson (who is now the director of the Bergen P.R.I.D.E. program) won for "Paraprofessional of the Year"! In 2008, Anita Bluestone was named the state's "Related Services Provider of the Year," and in 2010, Diane Haderthauer received the "Educator of the Year" award. The following year, in 2011, Jamie Willard nabbed top honors as the state's "Educator of the Year." Finally, in 2012, Sharon Luberto was recognized as the "Related Services Provider of the Year." Congratulations to all our winners!
One of our veteran Chatham school teachers, Judy McGrath, has been named the nation's "Teacher of the Year" by the National Association of Special Education Centers (NAPSEC)! This recognition follows her award at the end of 2013 as New Jersey's "Educator of the Year," by ASAH, a New Jersey nonprofit that represents 135 private, special education schools and agencies serving students with disabilities across the state.
To those who know of McGrath's amazing track record of success, the accolades are no surprise. McGrath, joined ECLC’s Chatham school in 1989, and in the subsequent 24 years has made an enormous difference in the lives of so many. She teaches a class of graduating students and focuses on ensuring they will be ready for the adult world by incorporating the latest technology tools; popular novels; current events, and business skills into her daily lessons. She empowers students to raise money by organizing fundraisers, which over the years, have raised an estimated $200,000 for the school and various other worthy charities.
Beyond those practical lessons, McGrath instills old-fashioned values of generosity, thoughtfulness and kindness to her charges. And, she has created programs to benefit the entire school, including the yearbook, prom and weekend respite program that allows students to stay overnight at the school and enjoy a social activity—movies, bowling, shopping, dinner and/or breakfast out—with their friends.
Sharon Luberto, the physical therapist at ECLC’s school in Ho-Ho-Kus, was named the state's 2012 “Related Services Provider of the Year” by ASAH, a nonprofit organization of more than 125 private schools and agencies in New Jersey that provide education and services to people with special needs. For the past 15 years, Luberto has been helping ECLC’s students do everything from improving their balance and coordination to better visually tracking words on a page to navigating the school’s stairs to get to class. She was singled out for using creative thinking and approaches in working with her students and looks to many different sources for inspiration, from the school's facility, dog, Patrina, to high-tech toys, like the Wii. She started a morning Zumba class to help students transition from sitting during long bus rides to activities of the school day. Listening to the music and moving to the fast rhythms makes students become more alert, awake and ready for class.
ECLC’s Executive Director, Bruce Litinger, was given the 2012 ASAH President’s Award for a lifetime of advocacy on behalf of people with special needs, starting from the beginning of his career as a special education teacher through to his leadership role today. ASAH is a non-profit organization of more than 125 private schools and agencies serving students with disabilities. “Bruce has given outstanding service to ASAH as a long-standing member as well as serving on the executive board,” said Gerry Thiers, ASAH executive director. “His leadership and advocacy on behalf of the private special education schools and the families they serve is invaluable.
Ho-Ho-Kus student Eric Perkins, who has autism, is usually a young man of few words, but when he picks up a guitar or sits down at the piano, he finds his voice. Perkins possesses a gift for singing and playing music that has been delighting senior citizens at two Bergen County assisted living facilities and in 2012 won him a N.J. Governor’s Jefferson Award. The award is part of the youth program of the NJ Governor’s Jefferson Awards for Public Service, recognizing the achievement of goals supporting outstanding service by students of all ages. Perkins won in the Health & Wellness category among 27 projects selected from all over the state.
In 2008, a program at the Chatham campus won innovation honors. In that program, students from Millburn High School come to ECLC's campus each week in the evening to conduct enrichment workshops for ECLC's special-needs students. The workshops range from basketball, arts and crafts and games to just plain "hanging out."
The PAIRS (Partners in Afterschool Inclusive Recreation for Special Needs) program began in 2005 and benefits both the Milburn high school and ECLC youngsters, expanding the social opportunities for the special needs students, while raising awareness for their peers about people with disabilities.