Teacher of the year encourages students to learn in multiple ways

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Stephanie Caruso, Absegami High School teacher of the year, at her assignment board. (Submitted by Julie Hazard) Stephanie Caruso, Absegami High School teacher of the year, at her assignment board. (Submitted by Julie Hazard)

GALLOWAY – What are the odds against being named Absegami High School teacher of the year?

The person most qualified to answer that question won the award for 2012-2013.

Stephanie Caruso teaches advanced placement statistics in addition to calculus and interactive math – which includes algebra, geometry and probability.

Her chances of becoming a teacher were pretty good, too, with her mother being a teacher in Kansas and Arizona as was her grandmother who lived in Surf City on Long Beach Island.

Her father had Surf City roots; his sister still lives there.

Born and raised in Arizona, Caruso is in her 19th year of teaching.

“My favorite part of teaching is when they get it – when the light bulb goes on,” Caruso said Monday, Jan. 7. “I like it all. I like teaching. I love it all.”

Caruso lives in New Gretna with her husband, Anthony Jacob Caruso Jr., who is a sub-surface utility engineer based at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. A native of Manahawkin, he marks out gas and phone lines for airports and military bases.

“We met at my cousin's wedding,” Caruso said. “I moved to New Jersey and then we were married.”

But the new teacher of the year didn’t start out with a classroom career in mind.

“I studied computer engineering  at Northern Arizona University – a local school,” Caruso said. “I learned to program, but I didn’t want to sit in a cubicle. Engineering wasn’t my calling. Math I loved.”

But teaching came naturally to the woman who eventually graduated from Ottawa University in Ottawa, Kan., where she majored in secondary education with a minor in math.

“When I was little my family had a room called the playroom; we had an elephant chalkboard on the wall and three old-fashioned school desks,” Caruso said. “The top of the desk would open up and you would be able to place your school supplies in the desk. Each of my siblings had their own desk. My mom, who was a teacher, would get supplies for us to play school. My brother, sister, and I would play for hours doing reading, writing, and arithmetic. We would take turns being the teacher and doing lessons. I always loved doing this.”

Her parents divorced and her mother became director of a private preschool and kindergarten.

“I attended this same preschool and kindergarten,” Caruso said. “When I had days off from school, I would go and help out my mom in the office or assist in the classrooms. Later, I taught at the preschool while getting my degree. During the summers, I was a lifeguard and taught swimming lessons to children and adults. My mom was by far the biggest influence on me becoming a teacher. Without her guidance, patience, and understanding I would not have pursued a degree in teaching.”

Caruso attributes her love of math to her high school math teacher for two years, Suzanne Sommers.

“She would find ways to help students with tools or mnemonic devices,” Caruso said. “She would also work on the homework hotline. She was able to explain the problem over the phone. Not many people are able to do this. This is how I wanted to teach.”

She said she became that teacher.

“I give up my planning periods to help students grasp concepts that are difficult,” Caruso said. “I try other methods to have the students engaged in learning. In particular, I try to have the students learn as many different ways to solve an algebra problem so they have a good understanding of the concept.”

Many students are able to get concepts by seeing, hearing, and doing problems, she said.

“I will show how to do a problem, have them do a problem, have them manipulate a problem and apply the math to a real-life problem,” Caruso said. “I have attended differentiated instruction workshops to help students be able to show they are able to do the math in other forms and not just pencil and paper tests.”

Her students work in pairs, groups and individually to comprehend concepts.

“I create different learning style activities and have students give feedback on them to make sure we are learning the objectives in the curriculum,” Caruso said. “I will try new activities and be okay if it is not as fabulous as I hoped. I attend workshops, conferences, and classes to become a better teacher.”

She said her greatest contribution to education is giving up her time to help students.

“I am often at school until 5 p.m. or later,” Caruso said, explaining that she helped found the late study program at the high school, allowing students to get extra help in math and science from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m.

She said she helps other teachers and collaborates with them on different methods of teaching.

“Many of us will collaborate on activities we use in the classroom and share how it went with our students,” Caruso said. “I attend school plays and sporting events to show the students my support. I will comment on what students are doing outside of the classroom to have a better rapport with them. Math is difficult for many students, but with my excitement and perseverance, I try to engage all my students.”

She said she teaches her students to have high expectations.

“I will not give up on a student who tries,” Caruso said. “I will work and work with them to help them enjoy and like math. They rise to the expectations and are respectful of the demands put forth to them.”

A team leader at Absegami, she chairs the teacher evaluation committee.

In 2012, Caruso attended the summer institute on statistics, advanced placement and calculus advanced placement at LaSalle University. She also attended the Anja S. Greer Conference on Mathematics, Science and Technology at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.

She is a member of the district evaluation committee and is team leader for technology in the district – volunteer positions.

Caruso writes curriculum for the district and does teacher training.

She is a facilitator of professional development courses for faculty and administrators in the Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District.

But her primary satisfactions are directly related to teaching, Caruso said.

“I have created my own website where students are able to see the weekly assignments, past notes on previous lessons, videos of some lessons, and find additional resources for the class they are enrolled.”

You can view that website at carusomath.com.

Stephanie Caruso with a class. In back are from left, Eric Wiesman, Wesley Ingersoll, Andrew Bonmer, Brandon Castillo, Tylar Link, Chloe Burgess, Ashley Dillinger, John Bolton and, hidden, Jerret Anderson. In front are Ernest Wescott IV, Joseph B. Eberhart, Alyssa Rice, Cheyenne Boyer, Caruso, Nadia Sundal, Nysha Melton, Christopher Espinal, Douglas Keeping and Ekellson Exantus. (Submitted by Julie Hazard) Stephanie Caruso with a class. In back are from left, Eric Wiesman, Wesley Ingersoll, Andrew Bonmer, Brandon Castillo, Tylar Link, Chloe Burgess, Ashley Dillinger, John Bolton and, hidden, Jerret Anderson. In front are Ernest Wescott IV, Joseph B. Eberhart, Alyssa Rice, Cheyenne Boyer, Caruso, Nadia Sundal, Nysha Melton, Christopher Espinal, Douglas Keeping and Ekellson Exantus. (Submitted by Julie Hazard)

Teacher of the year Stephanie Caruso explains a point to Douglas Keeping. (Submitted by Julie Hazard) Teacher of the year Stephanie Caruso explains a point to Douglas Keeping. (Submitted by Julie Hazard)

Stephanie Caruso works a problem with students. (Submitted by Julie Hazard) Stephanie Caruso works a problem with students. (Submitted by Julie Hazard)

Stephanie Caruso goes over some work with Eric Wiesman, left, and J.B. Eberhart. (Submitted by Julie Hazard) Stephanie Caruso goes over some work with Eric Wiesman, left, and J.B. Eberhart. (Submitted by Julie Hazard)


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