Hope comes in many packages, in many forms, and on many faces.
One such source of hope is Lee Mechenbier, a 27-year-old man born with Down’s Syndrome who loves the Cleveland Cavaliers (specifically Jarrett Allen), volunteering at a local preschool, his friends, dogs, tacos, and the movie Frozen. The third of four children, Lee is active, energetic, and loved by all who meet him. However, Lee would not be the happy, well-adjusted young man he is today were it not for the caring and helpful actions of educators at pivotal times in his life, providing hope when it was needed the most. These impactful educators chose to partner with Lee’s parents to provide Lee with the best possible academic experience.
As residents of a suburban school district, the Mechenbier children attended elementary school less than a block from their home. When Lee began kindergarten there, he was greeted not only by his two older brothers but also by a slew of neighborhood friends who had known him his entire life. He was happy, comfortable, and fulfilled. Lee received speech and language services outside of the classroom and worked with an educational assistant in the regular classroom until the end of second grade, thriving among his familiar peers. However, during Lee’s pre-third-grade IEP meeting, the intervention team informed his parents that the staff at his current building could no longer provide the level of services he needed. They said that Lee would need to transfer to a special education classroom in another building for the rest of elementary school.
This came as a real shock to Lee’s parents.
At first, the Mechenbiers thought they would have to accept the recommendation given to them at their annual IEP meeting even though they did not feel comfortable moving Lee to a self-contained classroom. His parents felt strongly that services could be brought to Lee rather than moving Lee to the services, but they didn’t know where to turn for help.
And that is when they found hope in an unexpected place.
Ruth, the Student Services Coordinator, heard the Mechenbiers’ concerns. And while she couldn’t advise them on what steps to take, Ruth asked Lee’s mom if she had met Beth, another parent of a child in the district with Down’s Syndrome. Ruth simply connected them, and from there, hope blossomed.
Beth insisted that Lee’s mom’s instincts were correct and fully supported her view that staying in the neighborhood school could and should work. Having gone through a similar situation with her son, Beth helped the Mechenbiers understand the process and develop ways to productively discuss the situation with the intervention team. Through this collaboration between the parents and Lee’s team of educators, the school district found a way to have services brought to Lee’s home elementary school, where he happily remained with an amazing aide until fifth grade. He blossomed in terms of socialization, time with same-age peers, and participation in age-appropriate activities.
The private referral Ruth gave, while being careful not to openly advise, provided the Mechenbiers with a priceless connection to other families who had faced similar issues. This simple act gave the Mechenbiers hope and empowered them throughout the rest of Lee’s academic career.
Often, teachers and school staff see the passion and sometimes the pain of families with children who have special needs as aggressive or threatening. However, as Christian educators, we can offer hope by choosing to see these families as part of the same advocacy team, working for the same goal—the best possible result for every child regardless of circumstance.
Anne Davidson Kusmer is a former high school English teacher and guidance counselor who currently tutors for college entrance exams and coaches writing. Married to Jim for 30 years, she recently became an empty nester, spending much of her time with her Australian Shepherd, LouLou.
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