We are proud to welcome the following teachers to the Magic 98.3 Teachers Who Make Magic Class of 2016, presented by the New Jersey Education Association, Crystal Auto Mall Toyota and Mazda, and Horizon Services Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning!


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Linda Dolan
Stony Brook School
Nominated By: Sharon Bradley, Librarian

Stony-Brook-SchoolLinda Dolan has been a library assistant in the Branchburg School District for the past 14 years, and currently works at Stony Brook School. She’s an extremely valuable member of the library staff, and works primarily with grades 4 & 5. She goes above and beyond her job description which includes, but is not limited to, loaning out close to 300 items each day to both students and teachers, and, after they’re returned, putting them back where they belong!

She assists teachers when they request items, and will quickly create bibliographies based on the subjects they ask for. She’s available to assist students who need help, and is responsible for managing the library collection while circulating materials.

Linda knows that technology is an integral part of how the library operates, and is constantly evolving to meet the demands, while managing the Chromebooks and Android tablets, as well as printers, digital cameras, desktop and computers. When working with students, she’s always respectful, considerate, soft spoken and friendly.

Linda Dolan is a vital component to the Stony Brook School Library, and this is why she’s the “Educational Service Professional Who Makes Magic!

Dena Orfanitopoulos
Beers Street School
Nominated by: Doctor Gregory Farley, Director of 21st Century Learning and Innovation

Beers StreetDena Orfanitopoulos, or, “Miss O” as they call her, teaches Technology, Basic Skills, Advises the Odyssey of the Mind Club, runs the Talent Show, and is the Administrative Aide to the Principal at Beers Street School in Hazlet. She creates rigorous academic projects for her 5th and 6th graders that engage them with real-life problems.

Learning is what it’s all about in Dena’s classroom, as she presents lessons like a college professor structuring activities to guide students toward learning objectives and prepare them for college and careers.

Dena’s written grants for robotics, coding, and technologies that students will need when they get to Middle and High School, and has worked hard to foster Science, Technology, Engineering, and Technology in all her lessons. She was also the catalyst to get the “Junior STEM Academy” up and running, a club that meets after school so students can work on projects that incorporate a 3D Printer and other contemporary tools.

Dena Orfanitopoulos is extremely dedicated to her profession, and makes the educational environment a positive and dynamic place to learn!   This is why she’s a “Teacher Who Makes Magic!”

Tanya Anderson
Franklin Park School
Nominated by:  Nicole Sury Scot, Principal

Franklin Park SchoolTanya Anderson enters her classroom each day at Franklin Park School with a desire to make an impact on her students! Her teaching style is nothing short of excellent, and anyone who’s observed her class can see she puts a lot of effort into her daily lessons.

She’s always researching the best practice methods to provide new-found, hands-on learning experiences, and has the ability to build relationships with all students to establish a classroom community of learners. Tanya possesses the knowledge and ability to differentiate material for students at various levels. Her lessons are well organized, carefully executed and continuously address all individualized needs.

She’s worked hard to create an environment where each student plays an important role in their learning, and assumes responsibility for their actions. Students set goals for themselves as readers and writers and work in collaboration with Tanya to accomplish them. She’s always evaluating student outcomes to be certain that they’re challenged in ways that are appropriate.

Outside the classroom, Tanya has a positive working relationship with fellow teachers and staff, and is incredibly giving with her time and willingness to share her expertise in language arts and literacy.

Tanya Anderson is an incredibly hard worker and inspiration to all, and this is why she’s a “Teacher Who Makes Magic!”

Ursula Melon
Pine Grove Manor
Nominated by: Patty Veronsky, Bilingual Paraprofessional

Pine Grove ManorUrsula Melon is an extremely nurturing, dedicated, caring teacher who makes all students feel welcome at Pine Grove Manor. She has a passion for teaching, and makes Bilingual Math and English easy to understand and fun! She treats each student with respect, and understands that everyone learns at their own pace.

She puts in long hours each day, but still has some leftover energy to train the entire staff for the annual talent shows! The money raised goes toward the PTO to help fund field trips and other necessary things for Pine Grove Manor, or even to donate to local animal shelters and food pantries.

It’s obvious to anyone who comes in contact with Ursula Melon that she loves what she does for a living, and gives 100 percent each day.   This is why she’s a “Teacher Who Makes Magic!”

Ada McCrady
Raritan High School
Nominated by: Suzanne Capraro, Supervisor of English Language Arts

RaritanHighAda McCrady is a dynamic English Literature teacher who knows how to make words come alive in the classroom! Her lessons are engaging, fun, and inspiring to all. She’s enthusiastic, energetic, and while she holds all students to high standards, she’s empathetic to each individual student’s pace of learning.

She’s always looking to try out new methods, techniques, and resources in the classroom to keep students actively engaged in learning, and researches new trends to enrich her teaching skills. She constantly attends workshops and embraces district initiatives.

She was a member of Raritan High’s one-to-one “Chrome Book” steering committee, and was also very active in making recommendations for Raritan’s one-to-one rollout, supporting fellow teachers and staff through the initial stages of the implementation, and is involved in many aspects of the school community that enhance students lives outside the classroom.

Ada McCrady is committed to making the student experience at Raritan High fulfilling and exciting, and exudes dedication, and school spirit. This is why she’s a “Teacher Who Makes Magic!”

Deborah Walczyk
Franklin Park School
Nominated by:
Nicole Sury Scott, Principal

Franklin Park SchoolDeborah Walczyk approaches each day with a big smile and a desire to make an impact on her third grade classes! She provides new-found learning experiences, and builds connections to establish a flourishing community of learners!

Deborah’s classroom style, while structured, is exceptional, and anyone who walks in, or observes, can easily see how she’s worked hard to create an environment where each student is challenged to think and to problem solve, and although they’re young, they’re taught to assume responsibility for their own actions.

Deborah also embraces technology in the classroom, and loves to get students interacting with a host of programs that create high levels of enthusiasm about math and science. She is incredibly giving with her time, and works together with fellow teachers and the administration to come up with new ways to engage students. For all of these reasons and many more, Deborah Walckyk is a “Teacher Who Makes Magic!”

Tina Neely
Crossroads South Middle School
Nominated by: Mark Kmiec, Assistant Principal

CARES_Social_ContractWe all know that math can be a difficult subject, but with the right lessons and motivation, the students at Crossroads Middle School are thriving, and it’s due in large part to Tina Neely!

She’s a caring, dynamic, teacher who works with the most struggling students and motivates them to improve their math skills. Tina understands every student learns at their own pace, and while she holds them all to high classroom standards, she knows how to incorporate fun and keep students engaged.  Many have said they actually LOVE math due to her tenacity to make lessons easy to understand!

Tina Neely is considered a leader in the school community, an asset to fellow teachers and co-workers, and now, she can add “Teacher Who Makes Magic” to her growing list of accomplishments and accolades!

Kathy Bontomase
Stony Brook School
Nominated by:  Noel Maroon, fellow teacher, Stony Brook School

Stony-Brook-SchoolKathy Bontomase has been a music teacher for the past twenty-one years, and it’s evident to everyone at Stony Brook School that she cares about educating her students in a respectful, nurturing way.

Kathy knows that technology is heavily integrated into every aspect of life, so she’s found a way to balance that while encouraging students to meet their individual practice goals.

She works diligently each day and provides each student with constructive feedback and a hand written practice chart that serves as a weekly form of home-school communication.  She sends daily emails to all parents with progress reports and reminders of what will be expected, and shows unwavering dedication to her profession.

Kathy’s fairness and sense of humor complement her teaching style, she treats everyone with kindness and respect, and serves as an excellent role model.

These are the reasons why Kathy Bontomase is a “Teacher Who Makes Magic!”

Christine Gappa
Irving School
Nominated by: Meagan Sussman & Myra D’Agostino, Paraprofessionals

Irving_2015Christine Gappa’s day teaching Kindergarten at Irving School in Highland Park starts by enthusiastically greeting each and every student who walks through the doors of her classroom, and, much like the energizer bunny, she just keeps going and going!

Christine likes to use music to help foster a love of learning, and her students absolutely appreciate it! She’ll keep the music on in the background throughout the day, so whether the students are working in centers, group activities, or individual work, it helps to create a very relaxed and positive classroom environment.

While teaching students about words, letters, sounds and vowels, Christine will say things in a funny voice, and ask the students to repeat it. While they think it’s hilarious, it also gets them to remember the lesson, and keeps them constantly engaged.

Christine holds work shops for fellow teachers and shares her ideas on using music in the classroom to foster a positive learning environment. She’s always looking to make a difference, regardless of a students learning ability, and knows how to structure her classroom with a healthy balance of knowledge while allowing her kids to just “be kids.”

For all these reasons and many more, Christine Gappo is a “Teacher Who Makes Magic!”

Nicole Petronio
Conerly Road School
Nominated by: Donna S. Burnett, Principal

ConerlyroadNicole Petronio teaches Kindergarten at Conerly Road School in Somerset, and all her fellow teachers agree she’s an innovative thinker who’s dedicated to fostering a love of learning. She has a unique ability to recognize the individual strengths of her students, and creates opportunities for them to succeed, both in and out of the classroom.

She’s a team player and participates in many things that make Conerly Road School a great place to learn, including the “Positive Behavior Support Team,” “CRS/PTO” and many after school clubs.

Nicole manages to incorporate “hands on” learning with a little play time in her daily instruction, and her students truly appreciate and enjoy it. She understands the increased emphasis being placed on academics at such a young age, but also realizes at the end of the day, her students are still children and learning should be fun.

For all these reasons, Nicole Petronio is a “Teacher Who Makes Magic!”

Bonnie Kudwitt
MacAfee Road School
Nominated by:
William Grippo, Principal

macafee road schoolBonnie Kudwitt wears many hats at MacAfee Road school, but you never hear her complain or say the work load is too intense. For example, she takes a very caring, dedicated and concerned approach to her role as student guidance counselor. In that role, she’s privy to things that go on outside the classroom, and will think nothing of checking out a home environment, or make a phone call to check in on a student.

She’s also the school test coordinator, and it’s her job to make sure all teachers are properly trained, and tests are secure and run smoothly.

As if that wasn’t enough, Bonnie is also the “Anti-Bullying Coordinator” and has an active role in the safety of students and the school, and serves on the district safety committee.

Everyone at MacAfee Road School agrees that Bonnie Kudwitt sets the pace for a warm, caring academic enviroment, and this is why she’s a “Teacher Who Makes Magic!”

Rokiah Barry
Stony Brook and Whiton Elementary School
Nominated by:  Sharon Bradley, School Media Specialist

Rokiah Barry has been an art teacher for the past 22 years and currently works at Stony Brook and Whiton Elementary School in Branchburg.  When not in front of students, she spends countless hours behind the scenes preparing their work to be displayed at community art shows.  Students love her passion for allowing them to be able to express themselves through ways they never thought possible.

Many students give up their lunch period to spend time in the art room finishing up projects, or, doing extra work. For the past several years, Rokiah has worked with the librarian and computer teachers to have 5th graders research, critique, and paint in the style of an artist.  This project is then tweeted out by students, parents, and staff so the world can see the amazing effort the students have made.

Rokiah has also received many accolades from the New Jersey Department of Education due to her support and participation in creating sets and props for various school plays at Old York and Stony Brook.  She works tirelessly long after the school day ends to add a real-life component to the world of art.

Rokiah is extremely dedicated to keeping the arts alive at Stony Brook and Whiton Elementary and possesses a unique way of motivating students to be creative.  For all these reasons and many more, Rokiah Barry is a “Teacher Who Makes Magic!

Patti Helwig
Somerville Schools
Nominated by: Lindsay Frevert, fellow teacher Somerville Schools

Somerville SchoolsPatti Helwig was born and raised in Somerville, and is fully engaged in her love of teaching music. Ask any of her co-workers, and they all say Patti defines the Somerville school motto of “All In.” Before she taught music, Patti was a “grade level leader.” She kept all the teachers informed and made sure all tasks were completed. If they had questions, she would be the person to ask the administration and get the answer for them.

Patti’s always looking for new and exciting ways to educate students and relates what she’s teaching to the units of study the children in a particular grade are working on. For example, if the second-grade class is working on a unit about Pioneers, she’ll find music that relates to this time period. Patti is always giving all she can for her students, and even wrote a grant to have access to ukuleles in the classroom.

Patti is also the Chorus Director and has taken students to various community events to showcase their singing. She creates a warm and welcoming environment for all students and greets them in the front lobby each morning. The students love to tell Patti what’s going on in their lives, and not only think of her as their teacher but a “Mom” figure as well. Now, Patti can add “Teacher Who Makes Magic” to her growing list of accomplishments!

Kristin Jones
Amsterdam Elementary School
Nominated by: Maryann Mullady, Principal

Amsterdam ElementaryKristin Jones possesses all the wonderful qualities of a special education teacher: professional expertise, personal warmth and true commitment to her craft. She motivates everyone at Amsterdam Elementary School, and gives her all each and every day, both in and out of the classroom.

She holds all students to high standards, but helps them meet their potential with appropriate guidance and support. Her goal for each and every child is independent learning. She’s also a master at motivating students to strive harder and achieve more.

Kristen packs her classroom with fun activities to entice learning. For example, one day, you may see her students walk the red carpet, another day, they’re solving puzzles, making movies, writing songs, or using technology to master their reading and writing skills.

In her precious spare time, Kristen helps to organize school wide celebrations, runs the glee club, directs staff videos, and participates in the character education program.

Providing a fun learning environment where students feel confident to achieve academic success is how Kristen Jones keeps learning alive. She’s unique, talented, an inspiration, and now, also a “Teacher Who Makes Magic.”

Patrick McDowell
South River High School
Nominated by: Kamila Buffalino, Principal

South River HSPatrick McDowell is the ONLY music teacher at South River High School, and he’s one of those teachers who simply “gets it!” He possesses the ability to connect with his students regardless of their conceptual understanding of music, and as a result, they walk away with a wonderfully enriched education.

Patrick understands that South River High School is a small community, and many students are involved in the same clubs and organizations. He thinks nothing of staying after school and holding band practice at various times so all students can attend.

He directs three concerts annually, and promotes community involvement by having the school band featured in local parades, and also organizes the annual talent show.

His former students keep him updated on their long term goals, and many come back to assist with the annual spring concert.

Patrick McDowell understands that the arts and music are very important components to shape his students academic career, and this is why he’s a “Teacher Who Makes Magic!”

Monica Ulisse-Landrove
James Madison Intermediate School
Nominated by: Michelle Sileski, Teacher

James Madison IntermediateMonica Ulisse-Landrove is a passionate and dedicated teacher who goes above and beyond each day, both in, and out of the classroom. She handles all of the Pride events for James Madison, which is a very involved process that includes lots of meetings, and, collecting food, toys, and money for local shelters.

She co-advises the “Odyssey of the Mind Club,” where she works with children after school to help them come up with a different way to think and solve problems. Since the students attend local and state competitions, she often meets with them several times a week. Monica is also involved with the student council, organizing food drives and student elections within in the school.

Anyone who’s ever come in contact with Monica agrees she’s extremely caring and dedicated to her profession, and always looks for a way she can make a difference.

Alecia Sand
Franklin High School
Nominated by: Jennifer Bauer, Teacher

Franklin-HS-LogoAlecia Sand teaches the Cognitively Impaired students at Franklin High School, and all her fellow teachers and parents agree she is the biggest advocate for these individuals.

She puts their needs first and assures they’re treated with respect. Each day, she creates a rigorous curriculum that includes a variety of life skills and reading programs, and provides field trips that allow them to explore experiences they may not be able to have on their own.

Alecia has a strong support system and her students are well known throughout school. She’s created a safe, caring and hard working environment for these individuals, and many fellow teachers have said they can see a difference in these students from beginning to end.

Marlene Director
William A. Miller Elementary School
Nominated by: Lynda Naspo, Teacher

William A MillerMarlene Director is the type of teacher that parents wish their child will experience at least once in their academic lives. She’s dedicated to every ESL student that walks through the door, many of who come directly from other countries and speak little or no English. When they leave Marlene’s class, they’re proficient in English and have a strong knowledge of culture.

Marlene has been making an impact on students’ lives for 33 years; she’s one of the first to arrive in the morning and most days, one of the last to leave! Her lessons are engaging and spark a desire to learn. She instills a sense of confidence in all her students and encourages them to immerse themselves within the school community.

Everyone who meets Marlene is drawn into her warmth and caring manner, and even though she’s retiring, she’s already said she’s going to come back and help out as a substitute teacher.

For all of these reasons, Marlene Director is a “Teacher Who Makes Magic!”

Maria Gartenberg
South River Elementary School
Nominated by: Wayne Sherman, Principal

SouthRiverES-LogoIn only 3 short years of teaching at South River Elementary School, Maria Gartenberg has quickly become a very well respected leader among her peers, students and parents!

With her bountiful bag of tricks and creative lessons, her students are challenged, but at the same time, enjoy learning. She enthusiastically attends professional workshops (on her own time), and then, shares that knowledge with fellow teachers and colleagues.

Parents know their children will thrive in her class because she can be counted on to go the extra mile.

Maria fosters a rich and supportive learning environment and makes sure each lesson is differentiated to meet the needs of all individual students, and the results have been impressive.

For all of these reasons and more, Maria Gartenberg is a “Teacher Who Makes Magic!”


Taryn Mateyka
John P Stevens High School
Nominated by: Regina Shapiro, Assistant Principal

JohnPStevensAnyone who’s has worked with Taryn Mateyka, or had her as an English teacher, knows that she always has her students best interest in mind. She plans thoughtful, interesting lessons that keep students so engaged that they can’t wait to see what’s next!

She doesn’t just present a lesson, she understands its history, how it was made, and its purpose. Taryn is a person who cares about her students as people, and takes the time to get to know them personally.

Outside the classroom, Taryn takes a role in creating curriculum that is meaningful and follows the standards. Her willingness to experiment with cutting-edge instructional techniques epitomizes the JP Stevens philosophy of the growth mindset, and this is why she’s a “Teacher Who Makes Magic!”

Mary Elizabeth Hughes
Auten Road Middle School
Nominated by: Angela Cleveland, School Counselor

Auten-RoadMary Elizabeth Hughes has been teaching since 1996, specializing in science, social studies, and Special Ed in grades 5 through 8. She’s a Google Certified Educator who is at the forefront of utilizing innovative technology to actively engage students with diverse learning needs, and has been a leader in the integration of “Chrome Books.”

As a professional technology “Turn Key trainer,” Mary has spearheaded the technology integration process from the ground up, and engages in collaborations with administration, colleagues, community members, and students. She launched a school-based Twitter chat using #AutenRoad to expand staff engagement, sharing, and collaboration, and expertly balances innovative technology with hands-on, creative lessons that excite and inspire her students and her colleagues.

Mary is not only dedicated to making a better world for children, but she’s also passionate about animal welfare, and has personally rescued a “Hurricane Katrina” dog, and advocates for shelter animals to find a loving homes. She also does yearly collections and donations for St. Hubert’s Animal Shelter, and invites representatives from the organization to visit her classes and talk to students about kindness and the real-world implications of what the students are learning.

She’s truly dedicated to making this world a better place both in and out of the classroom, and that’s why Mary Elizabeth Hughes is a “Teacher Who Makes Magic!”

Val Grollman
North Brunswick Township High School
Nominated by: Pete Clark, Principal, North Brunswick Township High School

nbthsVal Grollman is an Art Teacher at NBTHS, and each day, she helps her students grow and recognize their abilities by encouraging them to take creative risks.  She encourages students to participate in the Congressional and Scholastic Art Competitions, and brings outside speakers to the classroom who are affiliated with Arts High School, The Middlesex County Fair and the Zambassador Program with the Zimmerli Art Gallery.

She adorns the hallways with murals to foster a positive educational environment, and was one of the teachers who was instrumental in the creation of the “Butterfly Garden” and the 911 Memorial in honor of a student who passed away, and is very active in a yearly school event entitled “You Made A Difference.”

Val Grollman understands that art and creativity are two things that are extremely important, and fosters confidence in her students that will allow them to succeed throughout their lives. This is why she’s a “Teacher Who Makes Magic!”

Suzanne Updegrove
Branchburg Central Middle School
Nominated by: Mathew Barbosa, Principal, Branchburg Central Middle School

Branchburg-CentralThrough the use of technology, exploration, challenge and discovery, Suzanne Updegrove makes learning fun and exciting! She makes a big impact on her students, fellow teachers, and all that are in the community around her! Suzanne is responsible for the organization and planning of “Enrichment Days,” where students get to choose a topic they’d like to learn about, and include everything from Drone Flying, Auto Repair, Coding, and even acting!

It takes an enormous amount of work to organize these classes, get the necessary supplies and schedule the students, but Suzanne is is up to the task, and the Enrichment Days always turn out exceptional! She was instrumental in starting a spelling bee for schools in Somerset County and has brought geography and math competitions to Branchburg!

She runs competitions in App Design, Video Creation and “Doodle for Google” and provides opportunities for students to explore science, teaching and technology by taking them to events at local universities.

Suzanne Updegrove is always looking for ways to create new and creative opportunities for students and fellow teachers. She’s a positive influence to all who meet her, and this is why she’s a “Teacher Who Makes Magic!”