First, I’d want to start the scholarship program in my daughter‘s memory. For those of you who don’t know me very well, my daughter had severe classic autism. And finding good teachers who not only want to teach but want to teach child with autism and also have the patience to do it at the same time are rare.
In my daughter‘s short life, she had two fantastic teachers. Her last teacher we only got to know about 6 months before Mari passed because we had just moved on what would be my daughter‘s last birthday, her 8th one. Sarah was a great teacher for the kids in her class. She worked so well with each student. All of them had some form of autism and I believe all of there were on the severe end of the spectrum.
However, even though Sarah was fantastic and the school district was lucky to have her, Julie Ahlbach was very near and dear to my heart. Mari had been in her class since February the year before Kindergarten and stayed with her until half way through her second grade year. Basically, three full years. Julie had become a friend and I’ve even been to her house a few times. She was almost like an angel sent down from God to guide and protect her little ones in her classroom. Right before Mari passed, on that Mother’s Day right before, another child in her classroom had passed. This little boys death wasn’t as much of a surprise because of his disability and the fact the life expectancy isn’t very long, unfortunately, for someone with what he had. However, that doesn’t matter because it is still a loss, and not just any loss but the loss of a child. He was such a sweet little boy.
I remember Julie had come up to see Mari in the hospital the Saturday before she passed. She sang some of Mari’s favorite songs from her class with Julie. Mari was always so happy in her classroom. Julie love my little girl as if she were her own. I think of Julie and that is the kind of teacher we need to have teaching our children with autism.
So, what would I do if money were not object? Well, I’d start the Mariana Tunstall Scholarship Foundation. It would be a scholarship program for individuals who have a heart to teach children with autism. They have a heart for serving those who need it. I’d want to be able to not only provide a full scholarship which included room and board as well as any books or supplies that were necessary, but I’d want to make sure it was known that it doesn’t need to be someone fresh out of high school to earn it. It could be a single mom who would have no other way of getting her degree and had a hard to teach children with autism. Or maybe someone who is married but there would be no way the husband and wife can afford to have one of them going to college to get their degree to do this. So I’d want the scholarship to be able to afford either their rent or mortgage, as well as groceries to feed their family. In other words, their room costs would be those costs just mentioned.
I know I don’t have the ability to where money is no object. However, I plan to take most of the proceeds of Mari’s memoir as well as any fiction book I write and put it toward the scholarship program. Eventually I want to provide a 4-year full ride to an individual, and then keep adding more as more becomes available.
How I’d do this program is those who are interested in the scholarship would need to write an essay as to why they want to become an autism teacher. I’d read every one of them and then I’d make the decision. This is too important of a decision to let anyone else do it as I want to make sure the person’s heart is in the right spot.
Whoever were to earn this scholarship would have to show every semester what classes they were taking as well as showing what degree they are registered for. Upon graduation, they would be required to show proof of the degree they had earned. They would have two years to find a job teaching children with autism. If they do not get one and do something else besides this, the entire scholarship would have to be paid back. In other words, I would not be providing a free education just so they could get some free money. They would have to prove their heart is in the right spot and actually follow through with it.
There is a great need for autism teachers out there today. We just need to be able to help those who want to do it.