We are thrilled to name Elyse Matriccino, school counselor at the Marie D. Durand Elementary School in Vineland, a Community Superhero! Elyse has been a school counselor for 25 years and has worked in the Vineland Public Schools for almost 17 years. Our paths crossed when Elyse joined the team working to provide a voice for one of our CASA children. This particular case needed all of the guardian angels it could get and we were so thankful to have Elyse’s passion and dedication to help push the case forward. Elyse says of the experience, “In my work as a school counselor, I learned about CASA and all the incredible work they do advocating for children several years ago when CASA presented a training to our counseling staff. More recently, however, I had a student who desperately needed a forever home. Her CASA staff worked diligently to coordinate all the different agencies and was the essential link to the court system that ensured my student was placed with her loving forever family. I can never thank CASA enough for tirelessly advocating for my student.”
When asked what she does to help promote child abuse awareness, Elyse responded, “The Vineland Public Schools is committed to the health, welfare and safety of all our students. This commitment starts at the top with our Superintendent, Dr. Mary Gruccio, continues on through the administrative staff and proceeds all the way down to the teaching and support staff. At Durand Elementary School, our Principal Dan Greco, strives to provide a safe environment where children feel loved and nurtured. His emphasis is on building trusting relationships with children and their families. We have seen time and time again that only when a child feels safe and cared for can learning truly flourish.” She went on to say, “In order to promote child abuse awareness, Vineland Public Schools provides an extensive support network through our Affective Teams which can be found in every school. The A-Team is composed of the school counselors, social worker and nurse. The A-Team acts to address any concerns with students at a moment’s notice. From assisting with food and utility bills to transportation to medical appointments, the A-Team is designed to respond to the stress many of our families face. We provide support, counseling and referral to community agencies in order to decrease the stress our families face on a daily basis. It is our hope that in times of crisis families feel comfortable reaching out to us for help. By knowing they are cared about, not judged and supported, we hope to decrees the feelings of hopelessness and despair that may cause otherwise loving parents, to abuse or neglect their child.”
We love to learn who is a hero for our superheroes! Elyse said, “My favorite superhero is Raven. I like Raven because she had to struggle to overcome a lot of pain and adversity in her past. She had to choose between allowing the pain of her past to make her evil or use it to try and help people and make the world a better place. I love that Raven’s superpower is that she can emphatically absorb the pain of injured people to ease their suffering and heal them. Although I consider it a privilege and honor for children or families to share their struggles and pain, I sometimes wish that I could have this type of superpower. As just a regular human, I am sometimes frustrated because all I can only offer is assistance, guidance and compassion.”
If you ever have the pleasure of meeting Elyse, you’ll quickly find out that she does in fact possess these superpowers and doesn’t even know it! Her immense love and empathy for her students is evident as she freely gives out hugs and support, and most importantly, her undivided attention. You could never remain sad or angry around her because her incredible energy is contagious. School-aged children are sadly faced with bullying, causing low self-esteem and making adolescence a difficult time for a lot of students. With Elyse on the front lines, we thought she could provide some insight into preventing and easing the effects of bullying. Her response is perfect, “I think the most effective way to deal with bullying in schools is to empower bystanders to become up standers. The bullying dynamic is one of power and control. If, as a school counselor, I could foster an environment of zero tolerance among my students for bullying, I would be ecstatic. It is very frightening to watch someone being bullied and this causes many students to passively stand by and do nothing for fear the wrath of the bully will be turned on them. We work hard to try and change the school climate to one of the students standing for the victims. In Vineland Public Schools, each year we honor students as Giraffe Heroes. These students are recognized for sticking their necks out to protect fellow students, for being persistent and for having a big heart. When we acknowledge these students, we are saying that it is everyone’s responsibility to look out for each other and protect against bullying.”
Matriccino is also involved in several organizations: the American School Counselor Association, the March of Dimes, and CHADD. “Every year my twin sons and I raise money by participating in the March for Babies. My sons were born 5 weeks early and without the research funded by the March of Dimes my sons would not be here today. Therefore, every year we not only give back but try to pay it forward so that no babies will be born too early. I also have been a member of CHADD. ADHD has touched my family and I have found a lot of support and useful information on their website and in their literature.”
Just in case you need a small reminder as to why she’s a superhero, we asked Elyse why she feels the need to be involved with child abuse awareness and she said, “I feel my personal mission is to ensure that children feel valued and loved. Sadly not all children get that message at home. I try very hard every day to let my students know how much they mean to me and how important they are. I have seen firsthand the devastating long term effects of child abuse and neglect. Childhood trauma can have lifelong consequences for children. It puts children at risk for learning and behavior problems, mental health issues, teen pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse and serious health consequences. Once a child suffers a significant trauma, their life may never be the same again. I strive every day to assist parents, teachers and caring supportive adults in providing a safe environment so that all children can grow up to lead happy healthy productive lives.”
As a community superhero, Elyse has some ideas in mind to help improve our quality of life, “If I could have one wish to improve the community, I would love to see more resources for children and families in Cumberland County. In the 2014 NJ Kids Count survey, Cumberland County ranked last on the list. I would like to see economic resources. According to the Survey Cumberland County has the lowest average income in the state. I would like to see more health and safety resources. According to the survey, Cumberland County had the highest rate of teen pregnancy and one of the highest rates of infant mortality. In addition, Cumberland County has one of the highest rates of substantiated child abuse and out of home placements due to abuse in the state. Finally I would like to see more educational resources. Cumberland County has the lowest passing rates on state tests in 4th, 8th and 11th grade. The children of Cumberland County have incredible potential. They are smart, active, involved children and given enough resources, I believe we can change these outcomes so that all children can reach their individual potentials.”
Elyse is beautiful on the inside and out – a true gift to our community and especially to the students who are blessed with her kind heart and support daily. She’s selfless in her mission and her actions constantly reflect that. We are so very thankful to have Elyse as a member of our community superhero alliance!