Shireen Dickson presents Matheny student Jameir Warren-Treadwell with an Okra Dance Company “Guest Performer” ribbon.
So you think you can dance? The New York City-based Okra Dance Company can, and in a special assembly at Matheny, dancers Brian Davis and Shireen Dickson demonstrated dance styles covering almost 400 years of history.
The company performs cultural, educational and interactive programs highlighting the breadth of American dance styles, from folk dances to tap, swing and vaudeville.
Davis and Dickson performed Irish jigs, tap, soft shoe, minuets and swing. There were tributes to vaudeville star Bert Williams and to Earl “Snakehips” Tucker, who popularized a dance known as the “snakehips” in Harlem in the 1920s.
The performance was both educational and entertaining, and the audience at Matheny quickly captured the spirit of the show and savored the experience.
Brian Davis with adult patients Daniel Rushton, left, and Michael Martin.
School nurse Amy Murdter helps student Kimberly Alarcon with her library paging duties.
Have you ever checked a book out of the library, only to find that someone has doodled on several of the pages, or perhaps spilled something that left a big stain? Well, some of the students in Matheny’s transition program are trying to alleviate your suffering.
The transition program is intended to boost the independence of students, both within the school and in the surrounding community. With that in mind, a group of Matheny students regularly visits the Bridgewater, NJ, Township Library to serve as library pagers in the youth services section, looking through books to find out which pages have these blemishes. Then, they put a sticky note on the damaged pages they find and turn the books over to the library staff to follow up. Some of the Matheny students are non-verbal, but, working with a school staff member, they communicate via switches or symbols. For example, a staff member will ask, “Sticky note, or turn the page?” and the student will answer via a voice-automated switch or point to a symbol, indicating one of the two answers.
Other transition activities include sizing, sorting and organizing at the TJMaxx/Home Goods stores in Bridgewater and serving as office cleaners and organizers at the Gurukul Yoga Center, also in Bridgewater.
One student found this damage to Abraham Lincoln’s nose in the book "Abraham Lincoln and the End of Slavery."
Larry Thornton helps out at a Matheny Hoops for Heart fundraiser for the American Heart Association.
By Larry Thornton
At first, I started volunteering at Matheny one day a week. During this time, I focused on learning each of the students’ names and getting an understanding of their medical conditions. Additionally, this gave me an opportunity to establish a working rapport with the administrators, teachers and staff who make this incredible facility possible. As time went on, my assistance was utilized beyond the classroom, which provided me with a greater knowledge of the medical center and school and increased my desire to help.
My many experiences at Matheny—including a pep rally, a student talent show and a graduation ceremony, as well as my time in the classroom—provided me with a greater understanding of the myriad services and opportunities available to Matheny’s children. As I sat in the beautiful arts center, I remembered reading one of the articles in a newsletter about the facility. The headline said: “The Therapists and Caregivers at Matheny View the Students as Capable Children with No Predetermined Limits on their Achievements.” This article was based on the comments of a Matheny parent, Julie Gordon, and highlighted The Matheny School’s conviction that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to learning. The events I witnessed truly exemplify the wisdom of Julie’s message.
By the end of June, I was volunteering three days a week and, for the first time, I was filling my retirement void. As I volunteer at this amazing place, what strikes me most is the school’s goal to enhance the emerging skills of each student. This is achieved through the loving care provided by the devoted staff in a creative, upbeat and positive environment. I can truly say that miracles happen every day at Matheny.
(Second of two articles)
Yasin on the job selling baked goods to help the animals.
Matheny adult patient Yasin Reddick is an animal lover. So when he decided to hold a bake sale to raise money for a charity, the Humane Society was a natural choice. “He went through a list of charities,” says Meghan Walsh, a Matheny recreation therapist, “and chose the Humane Society because he really likes animals and wanted to help in any way that he could.”
Reddick planned the bake sale for about a month. He would independently ask staff members and peers for baked donations, and he baked his own homemade dog treats. Reddick raised $205. “It made me feel great and happy,” he says, “because it helped the animals!”
The Humane Society, the nation’s largest animal protection agency, helps animals by advocating for better laws to protect them, providing animal rescue and emergency response, and investigating cases of animal cruelty.
A sign promoting the fundraiser.
Larry Thornton and Matheny teacher Margaret “Peggy” Zappulla.
By Larry Thornton
I retired in December 2008 after 47 years in the packaging and display industry. When retirement approached, I had no idea what it would mean for me. There was travel, golf, gardening and the luxury of reading many books. However, the transition from working daily to a life of leisure was not easy.
After moving to Peapack-Gladstone in December 2011, I familiarized myself with this picturesque rural town and, with the help of the town library, learned of the world-renowned medical and educational center located in the heart of town. Upon discovering Matheny, I set up an appointment with Gail Cunningham and David Curcio, who run Matheny’s volunteer services program. Gail and David graciously met with me for more than an hour and provided me with an extensive tour of the beautiful facilities that are perched on one of the highest elevations in Somerset County. As I left Matheny that Friday morning, my first thoughts reflected amazement. The citizens of New Jersey, and especially Peapack-Gladstone, should be proud to have such an incredible medical and educational facility for children and adults with medically complex developmental disabilities. Matheny has been a part of the fabric of our community since 1954.
I started volunteering at Matheny in March 2013. Sean P. Murphy, principal of The Matheny School, kindly gauged my interest in science and introduced me to Margaret Zappulla, one of Matheny’s teachers. I knew from the first day that a completely new challenge confronted me, as this environment was so different from what I did each day during the 47 years of my career. I was in a quandary as to how I would be able to contribute and help these young adults who could not communicate or verbalize. By the second day, my perception changed. I looked beneath the surface and saw a whole new and exciting world. I took time to reflect on how it would be for me not to be able to express myself or to walk. How does one deal with these conditions without feeling frustration? Therein lay the problem for most of these students and residents, who have so much to say and yet face ongoing obstacles to communication.
(First of two articles)
Eileen Murray, greeting Arts Access writer Jenny Durr at Full Circle 2013: Reflections, the 20th anniversary celebration of the Arts Access Program.
Eileen Murray, director of Matheny’s Arts Access Program, will be receiving Morris Arts’ “Outstanding Professional in the Arts” award at the organization’s Celebrate the Arts event on March 27 at the Morris Museum’s Bickford Theatre in Morristown, NJ. Murray is receiving the award because of her “outstanding accomplishments, commitment and contribution to encouraging and fostering the arts in our community.”
Arts Access, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, gives people with disabilities the freedom to create in the visual, literary and performing arts. Murray, a working artist for 30 years, joined the Arts Access staff in 2001. She was named director in 2011.
Morris Arts, located in Morristown, is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1973. Its mission is to “engage and build community through the arts.”
Every year, Verve, a restaurant and bistro in Somerville, NJ, celebrates Mardi Gras with its special Mardi Gras Carnivale. This year, the “Five Days of Fun” will run from the evening of Thursday, February 27, until “Fat Tuesday,” March 4. There will be music, bidding on Mardi Gras masks, prizes, gaudy decorations, cheap plastic trinkets and Verve’s food specials representing the cuisines of New Orleans, Venice and Brazil.
For the third year in a row, Verve will donate a portion of its Mardi Gras proceeds to Matheny. And the newest addition to the festivities will be a Gumbo Cook-Off on Sunday, March 2, 2–7 p.m. So throw your beads at 18 East Main St. in Somerville! But first, call (908) 707-8655 to make reservations, and be sure to mention Matheny.
Brad King demonstrated the two types of wheelchair securements utilized by Matheny.
Passengers seated in wheelchairs in a moving vehicle are 45 times more likely to be injured in a crash than someone in a regular seat. That’s why the way a wheelchair is secured is critically important. That was the take-home message from a session on wheelchair safety during a School Choice night held by Matheny for families of our students and patients. The session was presented by Brad King, Matheny director of transportation; John Reck, director of assistive technology; and Cindy LaBar, director of physical therapy.
King emphasized that it’s very important that families, bus drivers and operators of bus companies are all properly educated in wheelchair safety. “Every wheelchair,” he said, “should be secured using four wheelchair tie downs, and the individual should be secured with a properly fitting vehicle-mounted lap and shoulder belt.”
Reck pointed out that many injuries of passengers in wheelchairs are not the result of crashes. They are caused by things such as abrupt turning maneuvers or hard braking.
The role of parents in special education cannot be overestimated. That’s the opinion of Maria Fischer, an attorney with Hinkle Fingles & Prior, a law firm that specializes in representing people with disabilities. Speaking at a recent School Choice night at Matheny, Fischer pointed out that parents “do not care about staffing or budgeting problems. They only care about their child’s needs.”
It is mandated, she said, that parents have the right to be at every IEP (individualized education program) meeting. The IEP is a written plan that details a child’s special education program for the year. The IEP is developed at a meeting attended by members of the child study team, the child’s teacher and the parents. The purpose of that meeting is to identify a child’s educational goals as well as the program of services, supports and related service necessary to help a child achieve those goals. Appropriate placement is also determined at IEP meetings.
“Districts cannot exclude you,” Fischer stressed. She added that IEP goals should be, “measurable, objective and specific.” If a district indicates it wants to move a child back from a special placement, Fischer recommended that parents refuse to sign the IEP. “That gives you 15 days,” she added. “And if you invoke a ‘stay put,’ the old placement stays in force while you’re fighting with the district.”
“Parents should not sign the IEP until they are satisfied that it contains everything their child needs to make educational progress,” she added. “If parents don’t agree with the IEP, they should write a letter to the child study team that describes the changes that are desired.”
Peggy Zappulla helps a non-verbal student make choices.
Matheny teacher Margaret “Peggy” Zappulla has been chosen as one of the “Teachers Who Rock” by New Jersey radio stations WDHA 105.5FM and WMTR 1250AM. Zappulla’s nomination was announced by both stations on the morning of January 31, and she will be honored at an awards banquet in April.
Zappulla, “is not your typical teacher,” says Sean Murphy, principal of the Matheny School. “She is always aspiring to reach new heights, and some of her biggest contributions have been on our technology committee where she successfully rolled out initiatives to have assistive switches distributed to every student in the school.”
Another contribution: getting her students to grow a vegetable garden. It started with corn last year and will expand to several other vegetables this coming spring. Last year, the class planted corn seeds outside, made a compost pile and watered the seeds. “You should have seen the look on their faces when the corn had grown about three inches long,” says Zappulla. “Wow.”
Working with students with special needs “is a fulfilling experience,” she adds. “If you have a goal in life, nothing should stop you from achieving it. I have a responsibility to give my students with the encouragement, tools and support to help them reach their goals.”