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Program, teacher lauded for helping student find success

October 8, 2010

Cindy Kostoff, right, was honored as Teacher of the Month for Smith-Green schools recently for her work with special needs students, including Mitchell Sarrazin, third from left, Attending the meeting to express their appreciation were from left, Melissa Sarrazin, Tracy Sarrazin, Mitchell Sarrazin, owner of Sarrazin Scapes and Rose Wynn, Mitchell’s grandma. Post & Mail photo/Laura Richcreek

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 preschool—no 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 ounces—less 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 bus—so small for his age he had to ride in a car seat—and his parents cried, too. Then Smith-Green started their first special needs preschool in 1995 where he was given “the tools he needed to succeed,” said his parents in a letter read at Monday’s school board meeting. “We did not believe Mitchell would graduate,” his parents confess, but because of the dedication of teachers like Tara Tonkle, Nancy Becker and Cindy Kostoff, Sarrazin is “well on his way to graduate with his class, the Class of 2011.”
Sarrazin’s parents attribute their son’s success and ambition to the 15 years he spent in Smith-Green’s program. Without it, they feared he would’ve “fallen (through) the cracks.” 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-Green’s October Teacher of the Month. She teaches the special needs preschool and extended day kindergarten classes. Colleagues describe her as one who “embraces individual differences and celebrates growth and progress, no matter how great or small.” This “outside-the-box thinker” 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 she’s having a rough day. Becker describes watching the students’ progress and success inspires her. “You know why you’re in education.”
Another honor for Kostoff—from Dr. Tony Bennett, no less—is her recent appointment to the Indiana Professional Standards Board. Shellie Miller, Churubusco Elementary School principal, states Kostoff “will represent the Smith-Green School Community well in this position.”

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