Finding her people at Newton High School 

Meet 2022-23 Sussex County ESP of the Year Carla Brunelle 

Carla Brunelle was floored when she found out she’d been named the 2022-23 Sussex County ESP of the Year. For the past eight years, she has worked with students with autism at Newton High School, although she began her career working with preschool students.  

“I didn’t know what to expect when I was assigned to work with students with autism,” Brunelle recalls. “But I really connected with the teacher and although I’d never worked with students with autism before, it wasn’t long before I realized that I’d found my people.”  

Brunelle, the mother of three students who are all in Newton Public Schools, threw herself into her work. She is the class adviser for seniors, becoming the first educational support professional (ESP) to be a class adviser at Newton High School. In addition, she is the club adviser for the Best Buddies Group, a program dedicated to ending the social, physical and economic isolation of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  

“I just related to the students,” Brunelle says. “I enjoy making them smile. I enjoy watching their successes.” 

Brunelle’s students are aged 18 to 21. Many of them were 14 years old when they entered the program, and now they are transitioning out of public education.  

Brunelle works with seven students at the corporate headquarters of a local business, Thorlabs.  

“I like to think that no one is incapable of folding a box a particular way or attending to a specific task,” Brunelle says. “Additionally, I adapt the work to the student, so they are able to be successful and eventually become independent at their assigned task. I go nowhere without my tool bag of Post-it notes and a Sharpie marker. Success and independence are my number one goals for our students.”  

Brunelle also accompanies students out into the community so they can practice social skills.  

“We go to the gym, grocery store,” Brunelle says. “I like seeing them interact appropriately in public. People remember them and call out greetings. I love how welcoming our community is.” 

Brunelle has recently become more involved in her local association, but she was surprised when her local president contacted her to inform her that she was the 2022-23 Sussex County ESP of the Year. 

“I was surprised and very honored,” says Brunelle. “I enjoy being a positive member of my community and
my school.”