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Teacher Valerie Tauriello ’04 stops runaway SUV from hitting students

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Valerie Tauriello in front of Soehl Middle School
“I would do anything to protect my students as if they are my own,” says Valerie Tauriello ’04.

Valerie Tauriello ’04, a health and physical education teacher at Soehl Middle School in Linden, New Jersey, has always been one to put students first.

On September 8 – the first day of school – Tauriello employed quick thinking to stop a runaway SUV as it was headed for a group of schoolchildren. The father of a student, in his haste to deliver a forgotten tablet, had pulled up in front of the school and hopped out before putting the vehicle into park. Tauriello, who was on drop-off duty, noticed the car starting to roll.

In quick succession, Tauriello called to the father, yelled to the children to get out of the way, and ran to the driver’s side door to reach the brake.

“Once I saw that car go up that curb by itself, I didn’t even think twice,” Tauriello said in a recent interview with her alma mater. “I have to stop this car. When I first tried to get in I couldn’t get in, I had to leap in. The car started moving at a faster rate.” Tauriello did all of this while wearing a protective boot for an ankle injury.

“I would do anything to protect my students as if they are my own,” added Tauriello, who is herself the mother of 7-year-old twins.

“This is every day with Ms. Tauriello, thinking of our students first,” explained Soehl Middle School Principal Gwendolyn Long.

Tauriello, who grew up in Newark, earned a degree in Physical Education and Health K-12 from Montclair. “My time at Montclair State was awesome. I was a part of the softball team. Every day was fun and engaging.”

After graduating, she taught for 14 years at what is now Buzz Aldrin Middle School in Montclair while living in Linden and coaching the Linden High School softball team. Then, she got the opportunity to teach at the nearby middle school in Linden.

“This age group, especially the subject that I teach, I felt that I can hopefully inspire them and make a difference in their health choices.”

Tauriello has been on “a.m. duty” greeting students each morning outside the school for the three years she has worked in Linden (the district returned to in-person instruction for most of the 2020-21 school year). She says that she would like to see some changes to drop off – both logistically and philosophically.

“It’s insane out there. People go down one-way streets. They don’t stop at stop signs.”

Part of the solution is textbook Phys Ed teacher thinking: “My advice would be, if your kid can walk to school, let them walk to school. Get some exercise.”

Also, says Tauriello, “That father was so concerned about getting the kid that iPad. Everyone needs to be patient and just relax…. So many things could have gone wrong. But thankfully they went right.”

Story by Staff Writer Mary Barr Mann. Photo by University Photographer Mike Peters.