The magic of listening  

Meet 2022 Hunterdon County ESP of the Year Theresa Bruno

For 25 years, Theresa Bruno has been a constant in the lives of Readington Township’s children. She began her career in education as a substitute in the district many years ago. A teacher encouraged her to apply for a position as an aide. She ended up working in a first-grade classroom helping with reading and phonics, but her great passion was working with students with autism. 

“I work with students with oppositional defiant disorder,” Bruno said. “One of the reasons I felt drawn to this is my daughter has three children with autism. I truly believe that working in the district and being trained has helped me with my grandchildren.” 

Bruno sees one of her grandsons every day in her current position at the middle school. He is part of a Life Skills class and every Friday, and the students deliver breakfast to staff. He always makes sure he delivers his grandmother’s meal.  

Bruno develops a special connection with the students she serves. She was at the elementary school for 22 years, but when a child in her care needed her, she agreed to move up with him to the middle school.  

“They felt I was the best fit to help him,” Bruno said. “It was hard to leave what was familiar to me, but I went anyway. There were a lot of people who made assumptions about the student, but he and I just connected. We both love music, so we had that in common. All he wanted was someone to listen to him.”  

One of Bruno’s students with autism wrote a speech when they honored Bruno at a school board meeting. His words brought tears to her eyes.  

Bruno’s impact is felt in the classroom and in every other part of her life. She adopted her older sister’s child when Bruno’s sister moved to Arizona and the child didn’t want to leave. She is also her brother’s caregiver and helps him manage his health issues.  

Bruno volunteers with Starfish, a local charity in the community that helps families in need. At Christmas, they provide food. Bruno and the other paraprofessionals adopt a family or two at Christmas. They try to get everything on their lists and they urge other organizations to support Starfish’s outreach.  

“I love my job,” Bruno said. “I’m a people person and I have a lot of history in this district. I attended these schools and I still live in the district.”  

Bruno is honored to be the 2022 Hunterdon County ESP of the Year, but her first reaction was shock.  

“I had seen so many people get this honor before,” she said.  

But perhaps the secret to Bruno’s success isn’t really a secret at all. 

“One vice principal observed me and he asked, ‘Terry, I want to know what your magic is.’ I said, there is no magic. Most of these kids just want to be listened to, and that’s what I provide.”