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, which means she has the responsibility for instructing older students in life skills that will help them after they graduate. The Matheny School is part of the Matheny Medical and Educational Center, a special hospital and educational facility in Peapack for children and adults with medically complex developmental disabilities.
Four years ago, Tammara started the Tea Time Cafe, a snack bar managed by Matheny students for Matheny employees. Now, in her transition class, 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. And in January, both groups are scheduled to make weekly visits to the Bridgewater Library and a local yoga studio to learn appropriate job skills.
Tammara, a resident of Bridgewater, is in her 17th year at Matheny, although she left once, in 1997, to stay home and raise her children for three years. Then, in 2005, after four years as a part-time community education teacher at the Middlesex Regional Education Services Commission, Tammara returned to Matheny. One of the aspects of working at Matheny that she really cherishes is the creative freedom. "Creativity here is not squelched," she says. "If you have an idea, you can go with it. Matheny gives you an opportunity to try new things. I love working with students at all different levels," she continues, "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 to create programs that provide the best outcome for student progress."
Her colleagues apparently feel the same way about her. They nominated Tammara as Matheny's educator of the year for the 2012-2013 school year.