Teacher recognized for success with autistic children

Published 12:18 pm Thursday, December 16, 2010

Staff Writer

One local teacher has been recognized for her success in teaching children with autism, a job she considers an opportunity to help others.
Maria Gironda was awarded the Teacher of Excellence Award from the Public Schools of North Carolina at the 60th-annual Exceptional Children’s Conference in Greensboro. Gironda is an exceptional-children’s teacher at Chocowinity Primary School.
Similar awards were given to a teacher in each of the other 99 counties in the state.
“I’m very honored to have received any of the awards that I’ve received,” Gironda said. “Mainly, I think it’s very important to help promote the education of autism and what these students can do because I honestly feel like my students can learn anything. It’s my job to figure out a way to teach them what they need to know.”
Gironda said students with autism learn differently than most other students.
“I think it’s really important as there is a certain way you have to present information to children with autism in a way they can understand it,” Gironda said. “As there is a lot of structure and consistency and forewarn them, and just explain things to them ahead of time so they’re aware of what’s going on.
“Keeping a set schedule helps provide order in their lives so they know what’s going on and what’s next and what they can expect.”
Gironda, a lead teacher, has been teaching children with autism for five years.
Gironda has other teaching awards. She’s been named the North Carolina Autism Society Teacher of the Year and Teacher of the Year at Chocowinity Primary School for the 2009-2010 school year. She was runner-up for Teacher of the Year in Beaufort County that same year.
Originally from Pinehurst, Gironda said made her want to go into teaching special-needs children was when she was an undergraduate student at East Carolina University.
“I was kind of directed into that path while doing practicums,” she said. “And I just fell in love with the kids, and knew I really wanted to teach kids with autism.”
She said she is fortunate to have two good assistants, Jonita Dixon and Hope Diggs, who share her love of working with children with autism.
“I love working with other teachers and professionals to find new and innovative ways to reach my students,” she said. “We currently have nine amazing students, and many mainstream in the general education setting for parts of the day.”
Gironda received her bachelor’s degree in special education with a minor in child development in 2004 and master’s degree in special education in the area of low incidence disabilities in 2008 from ECU. She graduated magna cum laude in 2004.
She has received an add-on autism certification. She recently earned her National Board Certification.