Teachers of New Jersey: Mary Bellobuono, Learning Consultant, Cliffside Park, NJ
I am the learning consultant for the Cliffside Park child study team. I do the educational assessments for students to see if they have a learning disability. We compare my results to psychological testing and then I design their educational plans and programming if they meet the criteria.
I was an English teacher for many years, and then I had some students who had IEP’s, but wasn’t in a special ed. classroom, and I thought that there was more that could be done in both the special education classroom and in the general ed setting for kids with learning disabilities.
Now I work as an advocate on behalf of students with special needs. I work with the teachers to explain how each child learns, and what would best suit their needs. For example, if a student has a reading disability, it would help them more if they were able to take the test orally. Sometimes students need an extra set of notes, or be able to use a computer to type their assignments to be handed in, instead of handwritten. A lot of things that work for the special ed. population work well for the general ed population as well, so it’s not that much of a difference.
At the beginning of the school year at faculty meetings I will help the teachers modify tests, and I will go over the PRIM book with them, which is the Pre-Referral Intervention Manual. That will sometimes help them choose plans that will work best for the students with learning disabilities. I also will help them negotiate a behavior contract for a student. Sometimes students get along with certain teachers, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes it’s a battle of wills; sometimes you will have a student who will avoid going to class because it’s too stressful, and we will make a deal with him or her. Like, ‘Listen, if you hand in four of your assignments this week in a timely fashion, whatever you missed you will be able to hand in on Monday.’ Or, ‘if you come to school and go to class every day this week, then you will get a homework pass.’
I live in the town where I teach, and I sometimes see students who tell me that if I had not helped them, they would not have been able to get into college. I had a student who had ADHD, and he sent me a really nice text about a year ago thanking me for how much I helped him, and now he is studying to be an RN. Some people think students with learning disabilities are not smart, but they are often very bright students, especially kids with ADHD. They just cannot filter anything out. The student who is studying to be an RN, he is so smart. It’s nice to know you have made a difference, even if it’s a small difference.
Interview by Gregory Andrus
Portraits of the Jersey Shore