NUTLEY, NJ — For teacher Isabel Cosme, it is her calling to modify lessons to make Spanish language and culture accessible for all students. In the midst of Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15, Cosme is working with her students to learn from and enjoy the customs of Spanish-speaking cultures.
Cosme is a teacher at The Phoenix Center, a nonprofit, private school for students with autism, multiple disabilities, and behavioral and intellectual disabilities. Located in Nutley, The Phoenix Center serves children from eight counties in New Jersey. Some of these children are entirely nonverbal or have severe physical limitations, while others can read words and engage in basic conversation. Regardless, Cosme engages each student in her lessons.
For Cosme, there is simply no other way to teach than through engagement and inclusivity.
“My desire and passion for teaching started with a course I took during my undergraduate studies at Rutgers University,” Cosme told the Nutley Journal. “One of my psychology classes required me to volunteer a total of 10 hours at the Douglass Developmental Disabilities Center. It was then that I discovered my passion to teach children with special needs. Some people take a lifetime to discover their passions; however, I was fortunate enough to have discovered mine at a very young age.”
While her work is not always easy, it is certainly worth it.
“Every year brings a new challenge, where I learn how to teach using a different method or just learn how to implement a known strategy differently,” Cosme said. “The feedback and input I get from my students continues to invigorate me. I think of them as exceptional individuals with extraordinary capacities. I believe in my students’ abilities, skills and talents.”
Her belief in her students trickles down into her teaching methods, which then translates into student success.
“The most profound and rewarding experience is when I interact with my students and see their joy and level of engagement increase as they are able to communicate effectively with me and others,” Cosme said.
And she has certainly had time to fine-tune her methods; Cosme has worked at The Phoenix Center for 25 years. She currently has a master’s degree and plans to continue her studies in special education. In addition to being busy at work, she is the mother of two children, one in high school and the other a senior in college. Still, she finds time for herself.
“One of my passions is flower design; thus, I enrolled in a course for design this fall,” she shared.
Cosme manages to find time for everything important in her life. And she works to ensure her students find their own passions and learn about their own cultures.
“Students must be provided with the opportunity to increase their understanding and awareness of their culture and heritage,” Cosme said. “As students gain an understanding of their own identity, by engaging in different types of activities that focus on their culture and heritage, they can begin forming a sense of self and increase their self-esteem.”
In some ways, it is even more important for Cosme to offer these experiences to The Phoenix Center’s students in light of the fact that special needs children are sometimes left on the sidelines in education and culture. According to Cosme, all students have the capacity to learn; it is incumbent upon their teachers to find the right method of teaching to support that learning. Cosme seems to have found that method in her classroom.
“It is my belief that language programs can be more accessible to students who have been excluded from this learning context,” Cosme said. “Foreign language classes can be more accessible by growing student skills in meaningful ways. By incorporating music, dance, food, dress, customs, traditions and pop culture into lessons, students can find purpose in the learning process and share these experiences with members of different cultures in their own communities.”
To learn more about The Phoenix Center, visit thephoenixcenternj.org.
Photos Courtesy of The Phoenix Center