Sarah Stultz: Making a difference one child at a time

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, April 2, 2024

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About an hour before school was set to be dismissed one day last week, I received a text message from my son’s teacher with photos of him during their festivities from the day.

A big Twins fan, his teacher had a little celebration for the baseball opener with their class, and the kids were decked out in Twins gear with smiles from ear to ear.

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It was clear Landon was having a good time, and the photos brought a smile to my face.

After school, I also heard all about a separate part of their day, what they affectionately called their “spa day.”

After reading and learning about things like good hygiene and brushing their teeth all week, each student received a carrying case with a toothbrush and toothpaste, body wash, tissues, a washcloth, a comb, a hand towel, a nail brush and a few other things.

Landon even got to try out a foot spa bath and — surprisingly — loved it and was given a new clean pair of socks more exciting than the ones mom picks out that he wanted to wear all weekend.

When we got home from school that day, Landon took his new prized possessions out of the case, showed me his gifts and we talked about what they were for. Throughout the night, he opened and closed the box and sorted through his items, and at one point I even caught him pulling the comb out to try to comb his hair.

As I watched from across the room, another smile spread across my face.

You see, Landon is in a functional skills room at Halverson Elementary School, and he loves going to school.

He has loved going to school since day one, and each year I have been so impressed — and so grateful — for the wonderful teachers and paraprofessionals he has been blessed with to guide him at school.

There are a lot of great teachers in the Albert Lea school district, and each year when I see the advertisement for people to submit their Teacher of the Year recommendations, I forget and then regret it later.

So this year, in lieu of my submission, I wanted to take a moment publicly to thank his teacher this year for the difference she has made in Landon’s life — and in my own life, as a parent of a special needs child.

Kathie Lein has been a special education teacher for at least 30 years, and she has tremendous amounts of experience, patience and understanding that makes everyone better for having interacted with her.

As a parent of a special needs student, I’m put at ease knowing my son is learning under her watch, and I also know that he is cared for as an individual with his own unique needs. She understands disabilities, provides grace and encouragement but yet also expects accountability and helps them grow.

I’ve also felt listened to and validated as a parent of a student in her class, and I so very much appreciate the input she has given me when I ask her about challenges of day-to-day life of parenting a special needs child.

To Mrs. Lein, or as Landon affectionately pronounces her name, “Mrs. Lee-lan,” thank you for dedicating your life to such an important part of our community.

I’m not the only one who feels this way as I’ve learned. Mrs. Lein has been nominated and was a finalist for multiple years for Teacher of the Year and won the award in 2012.

I concur with the nominations.

Sarah Stultz is the managing editor of the Tribune. Her column appears every Wednesday.