LARAINE GAUNT, CREATOR & DIRECTOR, IT'S OK TO BE DIFFERENT

 

Laraine Gaunt, a special education teacher for over 30 years, has taught at the Katzenbach School for the Deaf in Trenton, NJ, in the Speech and Hearing Department at Riverview Hospital in Red Bank, NJ, at Navesink Elementary School in Middletown, NJ and at Tower Hill School in Red Bank, NJ.

Mrs. Gaunt first developed It's OK to be Different to help students respect individual differences - specifically disabilities. Understanding Disabilities was the first unit of the program introduced in Fair Haven, NJ schools in 1979 to promote awareness and appreciation for people with disabilities with a focus on what they CAN do and how they have adapted to their unique challenges. Understanding Disabilities was also introduced in Middletown Township public schools in 1987.

In 1992, Mrs. Gaunt added another unit to the It's OK to be Different program: Celebrating Cultures, which was introduced in Navesink School in Middletown, NJ and explores racial and ethnic differences that are common within our society.

In 1997, the program expanded further with the addition of Courage To Care, which was written and implemented in Navesink School funded by Mrs. Gaunt's award of the prestigious Christa McAuliffe Fellowship. The unit gives students the skills to stand up to peer pressure and discrimination by exploring events in history that depict the struggle for human rights.

In 2005, Building Friendships: Be a Buddy, Not a Bully was written and implemented at Tower Hill School in Red Bank, NJ to promote respect for individuals and to encourage inclusiveness. In 2007, Monmouth Day Care Center in Red Bank, NJ also adopted Be A Buddy.

In 2015, all four It's OK to be Different units were implemented at Sickles School in Fair Haven, NJ where the program first began. The program has since been gaining widespread recognition throughout NJ and Mrs. Gaunt hopes to bring the program statewide and hopefully grow a national following. 

Mrs. Gaunt has also been awarded the New Jersey A+ Disseminator Grant, The Axelrod Award presented by the New Jersey Education Department, Holocaust Commission and the Anti-Defamation League and has appeared on MSNBC's Racial Divide, serving on a panel with Harvard educator Cornel West and Senator Bill Bradley.

Presently, Mrs. Gaunt is delivering workshops, training parents and educators and assisting schools in the implementation of It's OK to be Different.