The Jefferson Chronicle’s Community and Sports Editor Michael Chirichella sat down with the Jefferson Township Chamber of Commerce Educator of the Year Cara Schwimer to discuss what makes her such a successful educator.
Q: First, Ms. Schwimer, let me congratulate you on being named Jefferson Township Chamber of Commerce Educator of the Year. My first question is did you always want to be a teacher or was it a career choice you grew into, and what has been your career progression that brings you to your current position at Jefferson HS?
A. Thank you so much, Michael. It truly is an honor to receive this award. Surprisingly enough, I did not always want to be a teacher; in fact, it was not even on my radar! I was an actress for over ten years before I decided to join the teaching profession. As I got older, my goals shifted, and I decided to pursue a career in education. For the past ten years, I have taught Drama and Communications at Jefferson Township High School.
Q: Who were some of your greatest influences when you were younger and through your career?
A: I have multiple influences who have helped me develop into the person and educator I am today. The first is my dance teacher of 16 years, Shirley Marley; she helped me discover my passion for the arts. The second influence is Mrs. Poppa, my 5th grade Social Studies teacher, who recognized my love for performance and let me somehow incorporate singing, dancing, and acting in every single one of my projects. My third influence is my mother, Patricia Gitto, a former Special Education Kindergarten teacher. She taught me how to find and celebrate unique qualities in all people.
Q: What is the most rewarding aspect of being a teacher? I know in addition to classroom duties you’ve just completed a greatly acclaimed run as faculty advisor to the Spring production of the Addams Family Musical. What parts of classroom teaching and other activities, like theatrical productions, bring you pleasure?
A: The most rewarding aspect of being a Drama and Communication’s teacher is watching the students overcome their fears. Most students are pretty intimidated to get up in front of their peers and perform. It is amazing to watch them evolve throughout the year and become confident in themselves, as well as their public speaking abilities.
Q: Are there specific challenges in your position, and what techniques have you developed to transcend them to bring out the best in your students?
A: I teach Elective courses, so this means I can have students throughout grades, 9-12. I also teach students with different abilities. Every student starts in a different place, with a different comfort level. The biggest challenge I face each year is to find out where each and every student is starting from, and how I can get them all to progress to where they want to be.
Q: Is there a facet of your life outside the classroom that you incorporate in working with students?
A: Much of what I do at JTHS is outside of the classroom. I am the advisor to our Student Council, which runs pep rallies, fundraisers, awards shows, bonfires, etc. Getting my students involved in all of those things is a way to bond with them outside the classroom setting, and in turn, makes them more comfortable inside the classroom.
Q: What would you like the readers of the Jefferson Chronicle to know that you feel would help improve the lives of the students and the overall educational environment in Jefferson Township?
A: I feel the main thing that would help to improve the students’ educational experience is to become more involved. Education is so much more than just what is learned in the classroom. It is so important to be part of a group, whether it is athletics, the arts, Student Council, FBLA. There are so many activities that JTHS offers. Involvement in these activities make the students truly feel that they are part of the Falcon Family.
Q: Final question. Money is no object and no one can comment , what is your ideal breakfast?
A: I know that I should say a well-balanced meal, but the truth is an ice-cold fountain Dr. Pepper and a Wake-Up Wrap (Bacon, Egg, and Cheese) from Dunkin Donuts would be my first choice.
THE SCHWIMER FILE
Date and place of birth: April 26, 1975 Belton, Missouri
Education: Circle in the Square Theatre Conservatory
College of Staten Island
Past Education Positions: Teaching Resident of the Performing Arts for at-risk youth programs in Harlem and Red Hook, NY.
Family: Husband, Ted Schwimer
Kids: Tyler (10), Piper (5)
Pet: Savannah (dog)
Hobbies: Attending my son’s baseball games,watching Piper do gymnastics, going to see Broadway shows
ABOUT THE AWARDS DINNER
The 2017 Jefferson Township Chamber of Commerce Awards Dinner is being hosted at Casa Bianca, 5266 Berkshire Valley Road, Oak Ridge, New Jersey 07438 on Thursday, April 20, 2017 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Awards given will include Business Person of the Year, Lifetime Achievement Award, Educator of the Year, and Public Service Award. Learn more on the Award Dinner event listing.