To complete her coursework in 2004 for a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Centenary College in Hackettstown, NJ, Stacy Lafargue did an internship at Camp Merry Heart. The camp, also in Hackettstown, is run by Easter Seals New Jersey to provide a wide variety of recreation and activities to people of all ages and all types of disabilities and special needs.
The experience was an eye-opener. “I loved it,” Lafargue says, “and decided I wanted to work with special needs students.” She began as a teaching assistant at Matheny in the spring of 2005, took an alternate route to an education degree at New Jersey City University in 2008, and became certified as a teacher of students with disabilities at Centenary in 2010. The Washington, NJ, resident is currently leader of the elementary team at The Matheny School, and this past year was nominated as “Educator of the Year” by her colleagues.
The best parts of her job, Lafargue says, “are the interactions with students. It may take a lot of time and effort to help a student express his thoughts or ideas, but every student has a voice that deserves to be heard. It’s unbelievably rewarding to witness the pride of non-verbal students when they answer questions, write a story, or share ideas with peers.”
Teaching, she believes, “is not just about getting the final result, but about the process it takes to get there. Whether it’s choosing which color marker they want to use on their worksheet, picking their favorite snack, or answering questions on an assessment, I facilitate the students’ interaction with the world and try to make it just a little easier for them to exist in it each day.” Lafargue recalls one time when the class was preparing for a camping trip. “How do you explain camping to someone who’s never been camping?” she asks. “One of the teaching assistants took out a paper plate, folded it, and demonstrated what a tent was.” That’s an example, she says, of how the elementary team “is open to anyone who has an idea.”