Creative freedom

Darlene Tammara uses picture symbols to make a story more understandable for student Deborah Eike. At left is occupational therapist Debbi Goodheart.

Darlene Tammara looks at her students and sees their abilities, not their disabilities. “Who knows how far they can grow?” she asks. Tammara teaches a transition class at the Matheny School, instructing older students in life skills that will help them after they graduate.

Four years ago she started the Tea Time Café, a snack bar managed by Matheny students for Matheny employees. She has her students count money from Tea Time sales, enter the results on a special math worksheet and make bank deposits. The students also work on clerical jobs for Matheny and fill packages for Operation Shoebox, an organization that sends care packages to U.S. troops deployed overseas. On December 1, her students, along with some Matheny adult patients, participated in an Operation Shoebox packing event at the YMCA in Hillsborough, NJ. And in January 2013, both groups were scheduled to make weekly visits to the Bridgewater, NJ, Library and a local yoga studio to learn appropriate job skills.

Tammara, a resident of Bridgewater, NJ, is in her 17th year at Matheny. One of the things she loves about working there is the creative freedom. “If you have an idea, you can go with it,” she says. “Matheny gives you an opportunity to try things. I love working with students at all different levels, coming up with creative ways to bring the world to my students, giving them every opportunity to grow themselves.”

Tammara also appreciates Matheny’s trans-disciplinary approach, “where therapists work in the classroom with teachers. We all work together. I feel very strongly about that – it’s such a collaborative effort. When there is collaboration among the teacher, therapist and administration, it’s like a well-oiled machine. I enjoy being given the chance to discuss my students with my colleagues.”

Her colleagues apparently feel the same way about her as they nominated Tammara as Matheny’s educator of the year for the 2012-2013 school year.