By CLAIRE ST. JOHN
Mikalee Posten will never be as strong as her classmates.
Her congenital disease strikes one in 50,000 people and leaves the kindergartner with muscles that will always be underdeveloped, no matter how much she works them.
Mika also has a mild learning disability, and paired with the physical weakness, Tyra Posten feared her daughter would struggle with writing, reading and counting for years.
But with the help of one kindergarten teacher Brenda Griswold Mika has excelled at these activities, and still finds plenty of time to play with her friends.
Before coming to Mother Lode Christian School in Tuolumne, Mika, of Chinese Camp, started in the public education system so she could get special education services. She was diagnosed early on with the rare "fiber-like disproportion" that prevented her from moving as a baby.
Through sessions with a physical and occupational therapist, Mika did strengthen her muscles and refined routine movements made difficult by weak hands.
But Posten although happy with the public system wanted her daughter to receive the same education as her older brother Alex, who started kindergarten with Griswold five years ago.
While Alex was in the class, Griswold met and befriended Mika, only 2 at the time.
"I actually have pictures of Mika sleeping under (Griswold's) desk," Posten said.
Because MLC is a private school, it does not have to accept a student with extra needs who may need more attention.
"(Mother Lode Christian) is not equipped for special education," Posten said.
But after much discussion with Griswold, the teacher and the Posten family decided Mika wouldn't get a better education anywhere else.
Used to perfection
Posten acknowledges that Mika's upbringing has been a struggle. Mika's three older brothers have had little difficulty in school Tyler is a sophomore at the University of California, Los Angeles; Kyle will enter UC Santa Barbara in the fall; and Alex is a thriving fourth grader.
"I was used to perfection, and I got something that wasn't perfect," Posten said.
Tears well as she talks about Griswold's slow and patient nurturing of Mika, now 7. Mika's handwriting a skill Posten feared would be especially difficult for her daughter is nearly the best in the class.
"Being the parent of a special education child, it means so much," Posten said of Griswold's dedication.
"She's phenomenal," she added. "Her unconditional love for each of these children, it goes beyond. She takes that step further."
Posten was so impressed with Griswold's method that she applied to fill a vacant aide position, and now works in the class three days a week, allowing her to learn alongside her daughter.
An ability to love children
While Posten cannot compliment Griswold enough, the tall, slender teacher is nonchalant about her abilities.
Strolling around the playground with her hands in her pockets, she smiles and waves at students while dodging questions about her way with children.
"I don't feel like I've done anything special," she said. "The Lord has given me the ability to love children."
Griswold said she didn't worry about taking on the extra challenge of teaching Mika.
"She just needs extra encouragement," Griswold said. "Lots of thumbs up and lots of hugs."
After 23 years of teaching at MLC, Griswold's classroom skills have spawned generations of people who remember and love her. From her friends at the school to former students and their parents, few have anything but praise for the teacher.
"She was always really good at understanding our little 5-year-old problems," said senior Alicia Sargo. "Even now, seeing her around school as a senior, I can remember those days as a kindergartner."
Griswold began her career at MLC more than 30 years ago. She was fresh out of California State University, Hayward, with a bachelor of science degree in early childhood education.
She taught at the school for three years, but after her husband and she adopted two children, she left to raise them and start a home day care.
The right one
Happy with her life, Griswold nonetheless said she felt she had abandoned Mother Lode Christian.
"One night I prayed Lord, if you want me to go back, they'll have to call me,'" she said.
The next morning, Rex Heath, the school's founder, called Griswold and asked her to return.
"We felt that she was the one that God had chosen for our little children and we were sure proven to be right," Heath said. "We have a great love and appreciation of Brenda."
Griswold has been at the school ever since, giving the youngest students solid academic and spiritual footing.
"She is the best kindergarten teacher in the world," said Jamie Acker, MLC middle school principal and teacher. "I think she treated my children as individuals. She was aware of their needs."
Although Mika eventually must return to the public school system to receive the extra services she needs, Posten remains grateful that her daughter was able to begin school with Griswold.
"In my heart, I trust my daughter with Brenda no matter what," she said.