MIDDLESEX COUNTY — It’s been three years since Elizabeth Viola taught Ally Everett as part of her fourth-grade class at Parsons Elementary School in North Brunswick, but that hasn’t stopped Viola from being a big part of Everett’s life.
Viola still attends events of which Everett is a part, including her middle school talent show. She still regularly e-mails Ally’s mother, Susan, for updates on Ally’s progress in school, at home and in the community. And Ally makes it a point to drop in on Viola’s classroom once in a while, even though she now attends a different school.
Viola and Ally Everett have a bond that isn’t easily broken, and for that she was nominated by Susan Everett to be a New Jersey Center for Tourette Syndrome & Associated Disorders (NJCTS) Educator of the Year, an honor NJCTS proudly bestowed upon Viola during an awards ceremony in June. NJCTS annually recognizes teachers, guidance counselors, administrators and other education professionals who are making a difference in the lives of a student with TS – an inherited, misdiagnosed, misunderstood neurological disorder that affects 1 in 100 children.
“I don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t have her on our side,” Susan Everett said of Viola, who regularly kept a set of color-coded index cards – white for things that worked well when teaching Ally, red for things that didn’t pan out – while educating Ally in the fourth grade.
“(Fourth grade) was an extremely difficult year (for Ally), and Miss Viola worked hard to be the best teacher she could be to my daughter, letting nothing get in the way of providing Ally with a stress-free, caring learning environment,” Susan Everett added.
Loren MacTaggart, a math teacher at Summit High School, also dedicated herself to providing that type of environment for Ellen Carpinelli. Her efforts paid off in a big way: Carpinelli graduated last month and, in the process, received a Children’s Scholarship Award from NJCTS for her academic achievement, community service and accomplishments as an individual with Tourette Syndrome.
Nominated for an NJCTS Educator of the Year Award by Carpinelli’s mother, Margaret Brody, MacTaggart regularly worked with Carpinelli before school to help Carpinelli stay on top of what was being learned in class and ahead of her nonverbal learning disorder. According to Carpinelli, MacTaggart “made her want to go to math class each day.” MacTaggart also checked in on Carpinelli during free periods, just to see how she was doing with her schoolwork and with life in general.
“Mrs. MacTaggart is a woman who is honestly a genius. She helped someone who had never been able to understand math do well in a challenging course,” said Carpinelli, who regularly received tutoring at home, before school and after school from MacTaggart to help her prepare not only for everyday class, but also for the PSAT and SAT. “I can’t say enough about the difference she has made in my life. She deserves this award for making such a difference in the life of a person with Tourette Syndrome and in the lives of so many other students.”
Since 2001, NJCTS has awarded 16 Educator of the Year awards. In some years, such as 2012 and 2013, there has been more than one winner. This year’s other Educator of the Year winner was South Plainfield Middle School Principal Kevin Hajduk. Also in the past decade, more than 200 of New Jersey’s graduating high school seniors with Tourette Syndrome have been awarded NJCTS Children’s Scholarships.
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