Deerfield Elementary occupational therapist honored for ‘unwavering dedication’

Deerfield Elementary School occupational therapist Sue Boraski received a Pioneer Valley Excellence in Teaching Award, also known as a Grinspoon award.

Deerfield Elementary School occupational therapist Sue Boraski received a Pioneer Valley Excellence in Teaching Award, also known as a Grinspoon award. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 03-26-2024 12:21 PM

Modified: 03-26-2024 4:13 PM


SOUTH DEERFIELD — For her work supporting Deerfield Elementary School’s students and teaching staff, occupational therapist Sue Boraski has been named the winner of the Pioneer Valley Excellence in Teaching Award in the Union 38 School District.

Boraski, who has spent 31 years working at Deerfield Elementary, said it was a “shock” to receive the award for her work. She emphasized that none of it would be possible without the entire special education team at the school.

“We work so closely together as a team that I feel the award is recognizing the team; it’s recognizing the work that we do for kids and families, and so that made me happy,” Boraski said in an interview in her classroom. “It’s validating, you know? Maybe I did make a difference.”

The award, also known as the Grinspoon award, has been presented since 2003 thanks to the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation in partnership with the Irene E. & George A. Davis Foundation. Boraski and other winners throughout Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden counties will be honored at a banquet at The Log Cabin in Holyoke on April 24.

In an announcement to the school community, Principal Tina Gemme highlighted Boraski’s commitment to her students and her peers, as well as her decades of service to Deerfield Elementary.

“Sue’s unwavering dedication to student growth, support of her colleagues, and expertise and professionalism throughout her career have earned her this well-deserved recognition,” Gemme wrote to Deerfield Elementary’s staff and families. “She stands as a cornerstone of the DES community.”

As an occupational therapist, Boraski’s work looks a little different from that of a typical classroom teacher, but the end goal is the same: ensuring kids are prepared to receive the best education possible.

She likened her job to solving a puzzle, as each student may have different physical or educational needs and it is up to her and the rest of the special education team to determine the best path forward to help a student be “comfortable and part of the class.”

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“It’s all part of being a student within the school,” Boraski said. “Then, I have a specific interest in working with kids that have executive functioning challenges and trauma histories, and trying to help them and help teachers understand the different ways that they learn and ways to present things, so kids can be more functional and independent.”

Another big difference — and the part that she said keeps her coming back — is the long-term relationships Boraski develops with the students and their families, as unlike a regular teacher, she may work with kids over the course of a few years if they need the help. Those relationships carry on through a student’s time at the school. She said it’s rare to walk down the hall without seeing one of her former or current students excitedly call out “Susie!”

Seeing students progress, she added, is the most gratifying part of the job.

“I get very fulfilled by this job, to see the progress that kids make,” Boraski said. “[Like] having a family try something that I suggest and then they are so happy a kid can do something at home.”

Boraski said she, and everyone else she works with, could not be successful if the school and the district wasn’t as supportive as it is of special education services.

“They’re very committed to early identification and services for kids here,” Boraski said, “which makes a huge difference in outcomes. … We are very much part of the whole milieu in this building.

“It is about a team here. I could never do this all on my own,” she continued. “It’s a good environment. [Superintendent Darius Modestow] does a good job and we’ve got a great principal, and that makes a huge difference.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.