Seeing the whole picture

From left, Maryanne Tortorello, one-on-one aide Tiffany Fritz and Mary Rita Tortorello.

If there’s one message Maryann Tortorello of Randolph, NJ, would like to deliver to parents of children with disabilities, it’s “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Tortorello’s daughter, Mary Rita, was born three months premature in 1995. When she was almost two months old, Mary Rita experienced bleeding in her brain, which developed into cerebral palsy. After three years of early intervention, she attended the P.G. Chambers School in Cedar Knolls, NJ, graduating from eighth grade in 2011. The Tortorello family visited Matheny as a possible option for high school. But the transition from the ambiance of an elementary school to that of a school located in a hospital setting with adult patients was somewhat disconcerting.

As a result, the Tortorellos tried two other school programs before finally settling on Matheny. “At Matheny, the appearance wasn’t ‘warm and fuzzy,’ but now that Mary Rita’s here, I realize the classroom teachers are ‘warm and fuzzy’,” says Tortorello. “The staff was very thorough when we came here. They spent a great deal of time with me, explaining a lot, and I explained a lot to them about Mary Rita.”

Tortorello believes her daughter is now getting “a typical high school experience. She’s changing classrooms. She’s getting a challenging high school curriculum. The problem in other high schools we tried is that she wasn’t being challenged. Honestly, they are amazing here.”

Mary Rita is now 18 years old, and Tortorello says “she loves to go to school. That makes me very, very happy. The teachers and the therapists are awesome. I can’t say enough good things about The Matheny School.”