Professor Marcia Picouto

Marcia PicoutoIt was a devastating condition that first brought Maria Picouto, a woman already successful in many fields, to the halls of County College of Morris (CCM). Picouto has worn multiple hats – as an archeologist exhuming remains at the site of an ancient Spanish church, an inspiring artist, a Tae Kwon Do instructor, a radio personality and even a puppeteer. But after being diagnosed with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, she was forced to find new direction, so in the fall of 2006 she turned to teaching her native language – Spanish – at CCM.

“I have teaching in my blood. I come from a family that has a big tradition of teachers,” she says. Her older brother is a college professor, and she always looked up to him.

Picouto says being in front of students came naturally to her as a performer, and having spent most of her life in Puerto Rico, she immersed her students in the culture and customs of Spanish-speaking communities. But as she adjusted to her new life she discovered that it was her love of the arts that truly helped her to heal.

“I paint and I forget that I have pain, I forget about what I had to leave,” she says. “I don’t consider myself an artist of painting; I consider myself a person who is sending a message through colors and shapes.”

She returned to Puerto Rico in 2013 for graduate school, where she designed a project to help others use the arts to express themselves. Picouto then took her studies to Coastal Carolina University in Myrtle Beach, SC, to complete her thesis. Through an outreach program for the surrounding Hispanic immigrant population, she developed workshops that invited residents to write, paint and record their stories.

It was through her thesis work that immigrants who had been underserved began to find their place in the community, and are now part of the area’s historical record. Picouto was awarded her Masters in Arts and Cultural Management and returned to CCM in April of 2017.

Picouto brings every aspect of her life into her classroom, using elements of the visual arts to teach in unconventional ways. “I show them how to make puppets with paper. We learn colors, we learn descriptive adjectives, even numbers.” And every once in a while, the performer in her returns. “I’m like a clown in the classroom. So they enjoy it.”

She also goes the extra mile for her students. She recalls a student with Muscular Dystrophy, confined to a wheelchair and escorted by his father, whom she made feel like he belonged in her class. “I remember the eyes of this father, saying, ‘Thank you.’” She believes that struggling with her own disability has made it easier to relate to her students’ challenges.

But it’s not just about learning a language, she notes. “They need to learn the culture. We talk about the traditions. We eat the food.”  And she focuses her lessons on more than just translating the words. “You are going to learn Spanish, but you also are going to learn life skills.”