RUMFORD – Cynthia Theriault is retiring at the end of this school year after 33 years of making education fun for children with special needs.

She began as a special education teacher and director in the Rumford area in 1975, left for similar positions in Wayne and Jay, and returned two years ago to serve as director of the Pennacook Learning Center.

The center, located in the former Virginia Elementary School in Rumford, serves 23 K-12 pupils with behavioral challenges. Many of the youngsters who attend would have been sent out of their districts for education prior to the establishment of the day treatment school five years ago. Besides Rumford-area youngsters, the school serves students from the Dixfield, Buckfield and Jay areas.

Theriault grew up in Rumford, graduated in the first class from the new Rumford High School in 1970, and lives in Mexico next door to her parents, Gloria and Norman Theriault.

She loves her job and believes in making learning fun.

“The special education law had just come in, and special education was just getting started when I was in college. It was a wide-open field,” she said.

And it’s a field she is glad she chose.

“I love working with the kids and the parents, particularly the behavioral part. If you go in with no judgments, you can form relationships with the child and the parents,” she said. “Every case is meaningful. Parents are doing the best they can.”

Working with behaviorally challenged children requires that the child be separated from the behavior, she said.

“If you do that, you can get great results,” she said. “I get satisfaction from helping. Everyone – the teachers, the technicians, the secretary, the custodians – we look at the kids as our kids. We have a lot of flexibility.”

Theriault has special thanks for Betty Barrett, a member of the SAD 43 school board and the Western Foothills School District board. Barrett was administrative assistant when Theriault began her work in the 1970s.

“She has been a strong supporter of special education for me, and she was always my mentor,” Theriault said.

“I love the kids and the special education child in particular,” she said. “It’s so challenging. I will miss the kids. Kids are what it’s all about, how real they are, they are who they are.”

Theriault believes she will keep her fingers in education once she retires, either by working in the field part time, substituting or tutoring. She may even run for the school board, she said.

“I have a lot of energy. I want to do some kind of community service,” she said.

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