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Chances were slim Mitchell Sarrazin would ever get more than a Certificate of Completion from Smith-Green Jr-Sr High School. Passages Children Services was able to help him with some occupational, physical and speech therapy, but once he turned three, he had to travel to Fort Wayne to a special preschoolâno special needs programs existed in his town of Churubusco.
Almost to the day, 18 years ago, little Mitchell was born three months premature, weighing one pound, 2.9 ouncesâless than any one of his current high school textbooks. He spent four months in a neonatal intensive care unit. Parents, Tracy and Melissa, were warned of the challenges preemies can have with learning disabilities, ADHD, and vision. They had specific training on caring for their infant who was on oxygen, medications every three hours, respiratory treatments, an apnea monitor and a pulse oximeter. All family members had to learn infant CPR, including his grandma, Rose Wynn.
He stayed strong through traveling to preschool in Fort Wayne, even though he cried the first few times on the busâso small for his age he had to ride in a car seatâand his parents cried, too. Then Smith-Green started their first special needs preschool in 1995 where he was given âthe tools he needed to succeed,â said his parents in a letter read at Mondayâs school board meeting. âWe did not believe Mitchell would graduate,â his parents confess, but because of the dedication of teachers like Tara Tonkle, Nancy Becker and Cindy Kostoff, Sarrazin is âwell on his way to graduate with his class, the Class of 2011.â
Sarrazinâs parents attribute their sonâs success and ambition to the 15 years he spent in Smith-Greenâs program. Without it, they feared he wouldâve âfallen (through) the cracks.â Instead, Sarrazin will attend Ivy Tech after graduating with a Core 40 diploma. He intends to major in Landscape Design. This month, he is starting his own lawn service business, Sarrazin Scapes, to build his clientele.
The support of his parents, the school system and the individual teachers have brought this tiny baby to a young man, educated and skilled and entering the business world. Who would have thought when he lay in the NICU, struggling to breathe, that he would be an aspiring businessman today?
Because of her work with Mitchell and other special needs students, Cindy Kostoff is recognized as Smith-Greenâs October Teacher of the Month. She teaches the special needs preschool and extended day kindergarten classes. Colleagues describe her as one who âembraces individual differences and celebrates growth and progress, no matter how great or small.â This âoutside-the-box thinkerâ has brought children like Mitchell Sarrazin along through the years to be successful and confident.
Nancy Becker, Special Education Director, said she likes to visit the special needs classrooms whenever sheâs having a rough day. Becker describes watching the studentsâ progress and success inspires her. âYou know why youâre in education.â
Another honor for Kostoffâfrom Dr. Tony Bennett, no lessâis her recent appointment to the Indiana Professional Standards Board. Shellie Miller, Churubusco Elementary School principal, states Kostoff âwill represent the Smith-Green School Community well in this position.â