A child’s first teacher is their mother. The loving affection a mother has for their child is unlike any other love. Laura Ostrowski testifies that her mother, Karen Dingfelder, was the greatest teacher in her life. The process of shaping a child also shapes the parent. Dingfelder’s inclusive way of thinking, without knowing it, shaped Ostrowski as an educator and mother.
Dingfelder’s love for her students inspired her daughter to become a teacher. Without knowing it, Ms. Dingfelder taught her valuable lessons about accessibility. These lessons would later play a significant role in Ostrowski’s life. The foundation of who her mom was helped Ostrowski to raise her own daughter.
Mother and Daughter Duo
Dingfelder, who had a disability, taught her daughter, Laura, to have an open mind. Being an educator wasn’t Dingfelder’s first career choice. At 14 years old, she set foot to become a nun and left home. Life had different plans for Dingfelder. When Laura and her sister were in their youth, Dingfelder became a substitute teacher.
“I remember she subbed before getting a full-time teaching job, and one day she even subbed in my classroom” says Laura Ostrowski.
As a single mother, she never made her children feel like they didn’t have enough. If times were hard, her children never knew it. Ostrowski now recognizes that her mother’s journey must have been far from easy.
She worked at various schools within Racine Unified School District including S.C. Johnson, Mitchell Middle School, and Gifford Elementary.
Ostrowski says “I still, to this day, have former students that tell me how much she meant to them.”
Becoming an English teacher
Just like her mother, Ostrowski, didn’t plan to become a teacher. Initially, she resisted becoming an educator. With her mother and sister being in the field, Ostrowski did not want to follow that path but becoming Mrs. Ostrowski the English teacher was inevitable.
She says “But after a couple years of college, I couldn’t deny that I felt like that was what I needed to do. So, after it was way too late to do so, I switched my major. I was able to make it work.”
Her time, as a teacher, in Racine Unified School District was spent at Starbuck Middle School. She was an English teacher there for 6 years. Learning is something that didn’t end for Ostrowski, even when completing her degrees.
Teaching at Home
Ostrowski’s career in teaching no longer looks like it once did. Most people can agree that due to COVID-19, education is operating, differently. For the Ostrowski family, adapting to the circumstances they are given is nothing new.
When Ostrowski was pregnant with her first and only child, she was teaching in a classroom. At an ultrasound, she received news that no mother wishes to hear. Leading up to her child’s birth, they told her that her child was going to have disabilities. The soon to be born baby was not developing the way she should’ve.
The Ostrowski’s Face a Diagnosis
Ostrowski recalls there being more questions than answers during this period of their life. Her daughter, Beatrice Ostrowski, was born in 2011. The teacher was learning to navigate her daughter’s rare diagnosis, so rare that it didn’t have a name.
The newborn faced countless tests without answers. Laura Ostrowski learned about the process of genetic testing, also known as Exome Sequencing. She was hopeful that this would give her answers about what her child was facing. However, this test didn’t. During these years, she was not actively teaching in a classroom. The roles were reversed and she was the one learning.
Learning from the Rare Diagnosis
The dots were starting to connect. A research group in Washington state studied the malformations of the cerebellum. A name for Beatrice’s condition was found. She was diagnosed with Poretti-Boltshauser Syndrome, named after the two gentlemen who put the puzzle pieces together.
“Even with having a mother with disabilities, I had so much experience but having a daughter with disabilities definitely changes you” says Ostrowski
Learning has taken place in different capacities, most recently with her child. The Ostrowski family was told they’d never meet another individual in her daughters lifetime with this condition.
In the beginning, there was about 4 or 5 individuals also facing similar circumstances, as Beatrice. Ostrowski notes that this is helpful because they can learn from each other. No doubt, that’s the teacher in her talking. Now, all over the world the Ostrowski’s have connected with about 20 other families.
“Each individual is affected quite differently. So, it doesn’t give us all of the answers, but it is a really cool thing that we have a little community now “
Accessibility and Advocacy
We can all agree that individually we have all been affected differently by COVID-19. Ostrowski is adapting by teaching her daughter at home, this year. Ostrowski admits that she was a different teacher before having her child.
An experience she encountered as a child has been a reminder to her about how individuals with disabilities should be treated, they should always be included.
“Growing up, people would address me, a kid, instead of my mom because she had disabilities. She could fight her own battles, and I knew that. My mom would always shrug it off, but I was fuming. But that’s my point, she could fight her own battles and so can our kids.”
One lesson worth learning from Ostrowski is that children should be involved in the decisions for their education just as much, if not more, than everyone else. Disabilities or not, school is challenging this year.
Education Impact Fund
We know times are tough, and that’s why we are supporting Educators. We are doing so by covering details about Education in Racine. If there is a Racine educator who has heavily influenced your life, share that story with the Racine County Eye. The Local Media Foundation is raising funds to support Racine County Eye efforts to inform the public on education-related issues.
We are also committed to providing resource pages for parents looking for mental health and covering the impact of COVID-19 on education in Racine. To view our COVID-19 information, click here. For mental health resources, visit this tab here.
To donate to this specific fund, click here for the fundraiser page. Our goal is set at 10,000. Can you help?
Nominate an educator to be the Educator of the Week by submitting a form here. Contact Emma Widmar at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.