Megan Schiedler shows what a child with Down syndrome can achieve

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: MICHAEL SCHIEDLER - Megan Schiedler completed Our Lady of the Lake Catholic School in June. Her brothers, from left, Mark and John Schiedler, celebrate her achievement.One incoming Lake Oswego High School freshman is a trailblazer.

Megan Schiedler, who has Down syndrome, treaded on new territory last month when she completed her attendance at Our Lady of the Lake Catholic School on A Avenue.

School Principal Joan Codd said to the best of anyone’s knowledge, including the superintendent, Megan is the first child with Down syndrome to finish a Catholic grade school in the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon — which encompasses the western portion of the state, from the top of the Cascades to the Pacific Ocean.

“I think the other thing that is so remarkable is that the students in her class found so much inspiration in her in the way that she interacted with them and the struggles that she had, and they always were willing to work with her,” Codd said.

When Megan, now 15, was about to enter kindergarten, her mother, Paula Schiedler, considered several options. Schiedler said it seemed right to place her daughter at Our Lady of the Lake, the same kindergarten to eighth-grade school as her three older brothers, who were heading into eighth, sixth and fourth grades.

“Someone once told me: ‘Don’t change your family because Megan is born,’” Schiedler said. “’Live your life.’”

Her brothers didn’t balk at having their little sister on their turf. In fact, the youngest boy, John Schiedler, used to watch over her, once telling his mother he’d never want to change Megan. John Schiedler, heading to Oregon State University this fall, said his sister has taught him some important lessons.

“Not to judge a book by its cover is probably the main thing I’ve learned,” he said.

Our Lady of the Lake’s policy is to try to keep siblings together, although there is no guarantee every child in a family will be accepted.

“When Megan was getting to kindergarten age, I thought to myself: ‘I hope the (Schiedlers) apply, and they did,” Codd said.

The Schiedlers and the staff agreed what would be best for Megan was bringing her into the mainstream classroom as much as possible.

According to the National Down Syndrome Society website, “educators and researchers are still discovering the full educational potential of people with Down syndrome. ... The current trend in education is for full inclusion in the social and educational life of the community.”

Instruction for children with disabilities requires specialized training, and Sheila Kleinheinz, the school’s vice principal, has a master’s degree in special education. Kleinheinz and Codd worked together to shape an individual service plan for Megan. The plan included connecting Megan with an instructional assistant and providing her with access to a speech therapist, even if it meant going off campus.

Sometimes called Down’s, the condition Megan has results from extra genetic material, and people with it can have mild to moderate cognitive delays.

Her instructional assistant, Carol Childs, said Megan cannot do everything most mainstream children can do, such as keeping up with regular science reading assignments, but the goal was to have her in regular classes as much as possible. So, she attended science labs and was especially fascinated with the dissections.

“I pushed her to see how far she could go, and she always surprised me,” Childs said.

With a little help from Childs, Megan explained that her favorite class was science, and she loved her instructors. Megan has difficulty expressing herself in conversation the way most people do, but she gets the point across with her bright smile, use of American Sign Language and a few carefully spoken, sometimes sung, words.

“She can understand what you’re saying; her brain just doesn’t allow the words to come down,” Paula Schiedler said.

She excelled in physical education, wowing staff with her athleticism. Megan also goes downhill skiing with her family and takes classes in taekwondo.

Socially, the other children embraced her — and she, them.

“When they reached out and said, ‘Do you want to join us, Megan?’ she said, ‘yes,’” Codd said.

Paula Schiedler noted that Our Lady of the Lake is a welcoming environment, and it helps open minds to have a child with special needs in a school.

“How do you expect children to respect a population they’ve never seen before?” she asked.

After Megan’s positive experience at Our Lady of the Lake, the future looks golden, Paula Schiedler said.

“For us, it was the absolute best it could have been, and we’re very confident it will be the same thing at Lake Oswego (High School),” she said.