LARAINE GAUNT, CREATOR & DIRECTOR, IT'S OK TO BE DIFFERENT
Laraine Gaunt is a highly regarded educator and proud founder of It’s OK to be Different, an award-winning education program that teaches kindness and empathy to children from preschool through middle school. The literature-based program created by Laraine has reached thousands of children in 17 public and private schools in Monmouth County, New Jersey over 40 years.
As a special education teacher in 1979, Laraine first developed It’s OK to be Different to help children respect differences, specifically disabilities. The program now includes six segments designed to foster understanding of disabilities, respect for differences and appreciation of diversity to build tolerance in children and communities. To mark its 40th anniversary in 2019, It’s OK to be Different is introducing a new element – the Upstander Club, which gives young people opportunities to advocate for social justice and contribute to their communities through volunteerism.
Laraine’s rewarding career as an educator began at the Katzenbach School for the Deaf in Trenton, NJ. She went on to share her skills and passion for teaching children with disabilities in several New Jersey school districts, including the Middletown Township Public School District where she taught special education for 22 years. She also worked for four years in the speech and hearing department at Riverview Medical Center in Red Bank, NJ.
A highlight of Laraine’s teaching career was receiving the prestigious Christa McAuliffe Fellowship in 1997 for her groundbreaking work in developing and teaching two components of It’s OK to be Different – Understanding Disabilities and Celebrating Cultures. Laraine has also been awarded the New Jersey A+ for the Kids Disseminator Grant, The Axelrod Award presented by the New Jersey Department of Education, Holocaust Commission and the Anti-Defamation League, and she has been a guest on the MSNBC program, Racial Divide.
Laraine grew up in Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ. She discovered her love for teaching children with disabilities while working as a counselor at a summer camp for children with Down Syndrome in Ridgewood, NJ. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Special Education from MacMurray College in Jacksonville, IL., and a master’s degree and certification to teach the hearing impaired from Smith College in Northampton, MA.
Laraine continues to deliver workshops, training for parents and teachers, and assisting schools in implementing It’s OK to be Different. A dedicated volunteer, she serves on the Board of Directors of Monmouth Day Care Center and lends a hand at Holiday Express and Lunch Break. She enjoys traveling, theater, and most of all, spending time with her family. She and her husband, Ned, reside in Red Bank, NJ. They are proud parents of Geoff and Susanna, and five grandchildren.
2019 Advisory Board
(from left to right)
Ashley Hadar, Donna Saatchi, Suzanne Butler, Laraine Gaunt, Danielle Mucciolo, Susan Scott, Harriett Hinton
Missing from the photo:
Amy Eklof, Adrienne Hoban, Dianne Maxwell