Every day before her classes start, Alexa Mattera gets to the school early and goes straight to the gym. But she doesn’t go to work on her jumper. She goes to help special education students work on theirs.
Mattera, a senior point guard on the East Islip girls basketball team, was sitting in first-period study hall during her freshman year when she decided there must be a more productive way to spend her time. So she asked her basketball coach John Caraccia, a physical education teacher, if she could assist him with his first-period physical education class for students with special needs.
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“I said, ‘We’d love to have you!’” Caraccia said. “I never asked her to do it. She wanted to be there. And now four years later, I don’t think she has missed a class since.”
Caraccia said Mattera spoke with her guidance counselor to make sure she could have study hall during first period in her sophomore and junior years to continue helping the class. Now a senior, she has first period free, meaning she could stay home if she chose to. But each morning, when the bell rings at 7:10 a.m. for the start of first period, she’s in the gym.
“She decides that she wants to be here instead of home in bed,” Caraccia said. “For a high school kid, that’s impressive.”
Mattera, who is averaging 22.3 points per game this season, teaches the kids how to shoot and dribble. She shows them how to stretch. She joins them for games of kickball.
“When the kids hit a home run, they get really excited and it’s great to see the smiles on their faces,” Mattera said. “You can’t help but be happy for them and it just puts a smile on your face.”
Mattera is an all-county athlete in basketball, field hockey, and lacrosse. She led Long Island in free throws made last season, which is a tribute to her speed and ability to beat defenders off the dribble. With a win against Deer Park in the regular-season finale on Monday, she will help East Islip clinch a playoff berth.
But knowing that she will soon be heading to Hofstra, where she’ll play lacrosse, Mattera has begun to mentor her successor, freshman point guard Melissa Sconone on and off the court. Sconone, who filled in admirably for Mattera when she was out with an injury earlier this season, has also been spending first period with Mattera, helping children with special needs.
“Melissa saw what Alexa was doing and I think just wanted to follow her lead,” Caraccia said. “Alexa has been a true leader in every sense of the word.”
Mattera’s time working with the class has been an inspiration in developing a career path. She now hopes to one day be a special education teacher.
“It’s been a great experience,” Mattera said. “It has impacted who I am today because now this is what I want to do. It makes me look forward to the future when I can work with kids even more.”