Childhood Studies Major Follows in Mom’s Footsteps and Embarks on Career in Special Education

By Tom McLaughlin

Growing up, Alissa Valeriano knew that she wanted to work with children. She just didn’t know what direction her career path would take.

A 3-year-old Valeriano in her mother’s classroom.

She then vividly saw the difference that great teachers can make in the lives of their students, having to look no further than her mother – a special education teacher at Mansfield Township Elementary School – as an example.

“I would visit my mother’s class and help out with the children,” recalls Valeriano, a Marlton resident and 2013 graduate of Cherokee High School. “I particularly remember that personal connection that you could have with students – I really enjoyed that. I knew that I, too, wanted to have that opportunity to help children who had academic difficulties.”

Today, Valeriano is one step closer to following in her mom’s footsteps.

In recognition of her exceptional scholarship, the graduating Rutgers–Camden undergrad was one of two winners of the 2016-17 Outstanding Senior Award in Childhood Studies. Fellow graduating childhood studies major Melisa Shultz was the other recipient.

“Receiving this award has been a great culmination of my four years at Rutgers–Camden,” says Valeriano, adding, “I have to thank my professors for making it possible.”

While she has long had the passion to be a teacher, Valeriano credits her time at Rutgers–Camden for building the solid foundation necessary to pursue her future career. She notes that a wide array of engaging and thought-provoking courses, such as gender education, urban education, and kids’ media cultures, prompted her to consider the many issues surrounding what it means to be a child in today’s society.

Just as importantly, she says, there was a focus on making a personal connection with students, which brought it full circle to the initial reasons why she wanted to be a teacher and reinforced her goal of teaching students with disabilities.

Valeriano notes the childhood studies program’s focus on making a personal connection with students

“We talked a lot about how teaching is much more than just giving instruction,” says Valeriano, who will be certified in K-6 and special education. “It’s about making that connection with students; about building and sustaining those relationships.”

Valeriano was soon incorporating what she learned in the classroom as a student teacher at DeMasi Middle School in Marlton. She also assisted special education students in the extended school year program at her mother’s school and at The Bancroft School in Mount Laurel, in addition to tutoring students in reading and mathematics at Evans Elementary School in Marlton.

“These firsthand experiences, in turn, really enhanced my class discussions and assignments,” says Valeriano, who also volunteered with several area organizations, such as Cathedral Kitchen in Camden and Habitat for Humanity Restore in Maple Shade.

Valeriano is now looking forward to leading a class of her own, where she can focus on providing the individualized attention that each student needs and deserves.

“I’ll be able to work with a group of kids throughout the year, which will allow me to do things like create lesson plans, set up the classroom as I need to, and really work one-on-one with them,” says the Rutgers–Camden undergrad, who would like to pursue a master’s degree in educational psychology. “I really look forward to having that freedom with the kids.”

And when things don’t go as planned and she still has questions to ask?

Well, she says, mom is always just a phone call away.

Posted in: Student Achievement

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