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Early Childhood Struggles Motivated Matheny Teacher to Pursue Career in Special Education

Christina Cupo, in her classroom with
16-year-old Michael Taurozzi

As a child growing up in Summit, NJ, Christina Cupo struggled with reading and writing and was often pulled from her regular classes at the Washington School for extra help.  That gave her an appreciation for special education .  “When I graduated from Summit High School,” she recalls, “I knew that special education was the only way I would be able to pass the patience and understanding I had gained onto a new generation of students.”

Cupo, who still lives in Summit, received her bachelor’s degree in special education and master’s degree in elementary education from the University of Scranton and began applying for teaching jobs in 2005.  The Matheny School, she says, “just kind of stood out.  I kind of connected with the students.”  She started at Matheny in July 2005 teaching kindergarten age children.  For the past two years she has been instructing high school age students. Matheny, she says, is, "an extremely special place.  Of course, the students make it really special, but the staff just feel like a whole big family.  We all care about the students so much that we just help each other out.” 

According  to Sheryl Gavaras, Matheny principal, Cupo, “exemplifies commitment and passion for the special education community.  The students, faculty and the school at large find her to be one of the most caring and dedicated professionals they have the honor to work with.”  As a result, Cupo has been nominated by Matheny as “Educator of the Year” in the annual competition sponsored by ASAH, the association for the private special education community in New Jersey.

Cupo was the first teacher at Matheny to implement and adapt the “creative curriculum” to meet the needs of students with complex developmental disabilities.  This curriculum, Cupo explains, “is primarily used in general education settings and is a center-based method of teaching that focuses on small group instruction while promoting discovery-based learning.”  The idea, she says, is to “just let the students learn by themselves with the teacher being a facilitator.  With our students, it’s kind of difficult, but we see progress throughout an entire year where someone else might see it in one day.  As long as I see that progress from September to June, that’s extreme gratification for me.”

Sometimes, though, there are surprises.  Cupo recalls a moment during her second year of teaching kindergarten.  “One of my students started walking.  All of a sudden, he just got up and walked, which was amazing.  And with that, he became a lot more focused, and his communication skills developed so that we were able to start a whole new picture communications system.”

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