By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
Emily Metzger-Puffer, who serves as the learning differences coordinator at Sacred Heart Academy, said she feels “lucky” to be able to do what she loves daily.
Being honored with the Irene Casey Catholic Inclusion Award feels like “icing on the cake,” she said.
The Irene Casey Catholic Inclusion Award honors the spirit of Irene Casey, an elementary school teacher dedicated to meeting “the diverse learning needs of students in Catholic education,” according to Dr. Mary Beth Bowling, assistant superintendent for Catholic schools.
“It is presented to an educator, counselor or administrator who exemplifies this deep commitment to inclusive practices,” she said.
Puffer received the award during the annual Catholic Schools Week Mass celebrated at Our Lady of Lourdes Church Jan. 31.
“It’s an honor even to be nominated, let alone be the winner,” said Puffer during an interview in her office Feb. 2. “I’m honored and humbled.”
Puffer served as an English teacher at Sacred Heart for 12 years before becoming the school’s learning differences coordinator — a position she’s held since she helped form the school’s learning resource center four years ago.
Puffer said she was driven to pioneer the center because she knew the frustrations learning differences create for students.
Her fifth-grade son was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and dyslexia when he was a kindergartner. Finding the best learning environment for her son fueled her desire to do the same for her students at Sacred Heart, she said. Though the school was already accommodating to students who needed extra help, she said she knew they could do more.
Puffer said her job is to “help students come up with a game plan to be successful.”
“Every Sacred Heart student has the capacity to be successful. Some just need the material presented in a certain way or help with time management and organizational skills,” she said.
That “game plan” consists of working with students one-on-one, getting parents involved and making sure teachers understand the students’ needs.
Puffer said her ultimate goal is to take students to the point where they understand their learning needs and learn to effectively communicate those needs to their teachers.
Amy Nall, assistant principal and dean of studies at Sacred Heart Academy, nominated Puffer “on behalf of the administration,” she said.
Nall, who was Puffer’s high school English teacher, said Puffer “was the student who cared about others, who cared about education and learning and she’s brought that into the classroom as an educator.”
Puffer doesn’t just have the skills required for the job, but also the personality, Nall said.
“She has true kindness and compassion in her heart” and possesses a “quiet leadership that serves to promote and unify,” Nall added.
Alexandra Dougherty, a junior who receives guidance at the resource center, said Puffer deserves the award.
“Mrs. Puffer works so hard and takes such good care of her students,” said Dougherty, who was in the center for quiet study time during Puffer’s interview with The Record. “It’s so nice knowing I have a constant support system and someone to help me with my goals and keeping a positive mind set.”
Puffer credits the success of students to their own commitment and that of teachers and administrators to working together.
“The teachers are amazing,” she added. “They’ve embraced what we’re doing.”