Cheri Rotelli, Physical Therapist for the North Syracuse Early Education Program

Cheri Rotelli
Photo provided by Cheri Rotelli

1. What is your background and where are you now?  

I am a 1986 graduate of Ithaca College. For a year, I worked in New York City at the Bronx Municipal Hospital Center. I then left for a 2½ year assignment with the Peace Corps in Costa Rica. I returned to Syracuse and worked at Crouse Irving Memorial Hospital for three years. That is how I was led to the North Syracuse Early Education Program. A young mother came to my office with back pain She shared with me that she had a young son with cerebral palsy, and it was becoming hard for her to carry him. After several visits, her back pain was much better, but she was upset because her son’s preschool physical therapist was leaving the position. She suggested that I be her son’s PT. I wasn’t looking to change jobs but was intrigued by what she told me about this preschool program that he attended. Long story short, one month later, I was working with her son. It has turned out to be great advice and I have loved the position for 28 years now.

2. What made you decide that you prefer physical therapy with little ones over adults?  

Every little gain is a brand-new step for children. It is like Christmas or my birthday every day at the North Syracuse Early Education Program, with the gifts being a new skill, a moment of confidence, or sheer joy because they realized they could do something new. It is like a mini-Olympics every day, and I have a front row seat as a coach.  Every day I get lots of smiles, high fives, thumbs up, or super hugs.

Working with kids also means working with their caregivers, so I also get my fill of adult teaching which is often just as rewarding. It has been the perfect mix.

This program isn’t just PT with little ones. It is very much about the whole development of the child, so I have the privilege of working with incredibly talented teachers, psychologists, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologist, nurses, administrators, and other PTs. Being part of such dynamic teams is an honor.

3. Being such a hands-on profession, what have you learned about how you have had to adapt treatment interventions in the past couple of years?

As a younger therapist, I wanted lots of progress in the shortest amount of time. That works sometimes, but often leads to performance instead of mastery. I have learned to be much more patient with myself and with my young students and their parents. It takes time to learn, to practice and to become confident with new skills. I want to teach my children and parents to be able to do things for their lifetimes, not just with me or for a day. I learned an adage in the Peace Corps: “Give someone a fish and they eat for a day; teach them to fish and they eat for a lifetime.”

4. What is the most rewarding thing about your job?

Super kids, supportive parents, and amazing colleagues! And, of course, a brand new, accessible, inclusive playground that we built in 2020, which had been a dream of mine for years. I am so happy to have it in place before I retire in a couple years.

Know an educator who deserves a mention? Email [email protected].

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