Alumna of the Month: October 2007
Michele (Lumia) Iallonardi ’98
What is your edge (strength)?
My drive and ability to see things through. I can't let things go. I have to make it work and make sure that it is done right.
What at Hofstra gave you your edge?
The intensity of the Elementary Education program at Hofstra. The diversity and intensity of the program requires you to be driven and focused. It was very good preparation for me.
What is your field of specialty, and how did you come to work in the industry?
I was an elementary school teacher right out of college. After I had my children, my focus shifted because of their disabilities. Writing and advocacy for children with special needs has become the focus of my work. I am a huge advocate of inclusion. I feel that it is the right of all children to have the same opportunities.
What was your first job after graduating from Hofstra, and what was the most valuable thing you learned there?
I graduated in December and became a permanent substitute in the Carle Place school district. The ability to be able to juggle, and do everything, was the most valuable thing I learned there. This position also reinforced my true love for working with children.
What is the single most rewarding experience in your career thus far?
I feel like I have had two careers. As an elementary education teacher - a sixth grader wrote to me to tell me the great impact I had on her back in third grade. That experience was very precious to me. Currently, my writing and advocacy allows me to reach out to and help other families who have children with developmental disabilities - and it is very rewarding to help them. That reward never ends.
Who in your field do you most admire?
Mothers of children with disabilities. They are incredible, amazing people, and there is not one I admire more than another.
What was your major?
Elementary education and sociology.
What was your favorite class?
My favorite class centered on "How to Teach Math to Elementary Students" with my favorite professor, Eileen Simons. The language arts part of teaching had always been my interest, but this class opened my mind to teaching math. Dr. Simons taught us how to teach math using movement and other innovative steps.
What is your fondest memory of Hofstra?
Graduation! I graduated with honors, but I had dropped out of college twice before I attended Hofstra. For me to finally pull it together as an older student and get through school with honors was a big deal.
In one word, how would you describe Hofstra?
Excellent! I had an excellent experience and got an excellent education.
What advice would you give to current students?
Give it your all - always, no matter what.
How do you balance work and life?
Carefully! I have a lot of support - my parents are very helpful. I manage it with a lot of help, and I get a lot less sleep than I should. I am the kind of person at this point who "just does it" - and I've learned to ask for help when I need it.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In 10 years I see myself having written a book about my experience as a mother of children with disabilities. I envision having more time to write when my kids are settled in school. I also see myself earning a master's degree and continuing to advocate for families of children with disabilities.
How has your active involvement in autism-related groups affected your outlook on education?
I never realized the value or importance of inclusion like I do now. My involvement has made me focus more on children with developmental disabilities and how they need to be included - as far as education goes, the right of all children to be educated in the same environment. Every classroom, teacher and parent who has experienced a mixed environment in the classroom has spoken very highly of it. It is a good experience for children to get used to kids with differences from an early age.
You've successfully published your work. What has motivated you to write, and how do you build time into your busy family schedule to continue writing?
My children have motivated me to write - 90 percent of what I write is about them. My older son is a particular motivation, because of the degree of his autism and the struggles and successes he has had. Therapeutically I find writing to be helpful for me, and I know that what I write is helpful to others as well. It feels good to share my experiences and help others.
What is your best advice to current students who are preparing to work with children with disabilities?
If you are working with a child who does not understand what you are teaching, always keep trying to figure out how that student learns. As a young teacher, you may think the child just doesn't get it. Usually it isn't the child; it is that you aren't teaching to that child's abilities. All children have the right to learn, and all children WANT to learn. You just need to find the right way for him or her. Don't get discouraged when they don't get it. Keep working at it until it clicks for both you and the child.
Michele (Lumia) Iallonardi graduated from Hofstra University with a dual degree in elementary education and sociology. She has been writing for The Autism Perspective magazine for more than two years. Before Michele and her husband, Ralph, became parents to three remarkable boys, she was an elementary school teacher. Her sons, Jackson, Bennett and Luca, were her inspiration for becoming an advocate for children with autism. She is active in local autism organizations and in March was part of a panel interviewed on Larry King Live. She has also been interviewed by CNN and News 12 Long Island. Her son Jackson was featured in the documentary Autism Every Day, which was screened at the Sundance Film Festival, and was featured on Good Morning America, The Oprah Winfrey Show, The View, Martha Stewart, MSNBC and CNN. Michele's work was recently published in the newest addition to the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, "Chicken Soup for the Soul: Children With Special Needs." Michele runs an online support group for parents who have three (or more) children on the spectrum. If you'd like to contact Michele she can be reached via e-mail.