At last week’s school board meeting in Shoreham, a mother whose child has a disability approached the board’s newest member for advice about the district’s special education program.
But she wasn’t talking to an elected official. It was Shoreham-Wading River High School senior Mary Steinbrecher, who has been president of the school’s anti-bullying program, Best Buddies, for the past two years. On Oct. 20, Mary was sworn in as a student rep and nonvoting member of the district’s board of education.
“It’s a great opportunity for me because I believe it’s important for the school board to get a student’s perspective, even if it’s just simple things,” Mary said in an interview this week.
The district created the position in 2013 as a way to increase student input on policy decisions. The term is split so that each student chosen in the application process has a chance to serve.
As long as she can remember, Mary has wanted to become a teacher. It’s the same career path her mother, Alice, a second-grade teacher at Miller Avenue Elementary School in Shoreham, selected.
For Mary, it wasn’t until recently that she decided to specialize in special education. A childhood friend of hers has Down syndrome.
Mary decided to join Best Buddies as a freshman in order to help improve relationships among all students.
She became close friends with a fellow senior, Christian Pluschau, a special education student who paired up with Mary through Best Buddies.
“What do we like to do?” Mary recently asked Christian as they sat in the room where the Best Buddies meet.
“Movies, go-karts and mini golf,” he answered.
“And Slurpees!” she added. “He makes me laugh more than anyone else.”
Mary’s adviser, Matt Millheiser, has also given her opportunities to organize activities and take on a teaching role in the club — an experience she attributes to her career choice.
Mr. Millheiser said he believes Mary is a good choice for the school board and believes she’ll be successful because she’s hardworking and organized.
“She’s very dedicated to whatever she puts herself into,” he said. “She works with the church. She comes to work with my students every day and she’s a part of the school board. She’s able to do all of that because of her commitment to organizational skills.
“She has a passion for it and a love for everything she does.”
Mary said she’s excited about her new role and is looking forward to acting as the liaison between the school board and students.
She’s also urging students to keep an eye out for the regular agendas posted on the district’s website as a way to stay informed about policy decisions.
“If there’s something that you’re interested in on the agenda, there is a spot for community members to speak,” she said. “It is very open. I just happen to have a microphone. That’s the only difference.”
Top photo: Mary Steinbrecher, right, was sworn-in Oct. 20 by district clerk Janice Seus as the Shoreham-Wading River Board of Education’s student representative.