THORNDIKE — Mario Montana has faced many challenges in his life since he was born with Down syndrome 19 years ago, but one of them won’t be what to do after high school.

He will work in a familiar place where he is both respected and appreciated: the school where he graduated in June with a diploma in the Life Skills program, which included cooking. Montana is an assistant cook and custodian at Mount View High School in Unity-based Regional School Unit 3.

Down syndrome is a genetic condition that generally includes mild to moderate intellectual impairment.

His experience, hard work ethic and ability to get along with students made him an easy choice for the position, according to Nutrition Director Cherie Merrill. He works four hours a day and gets benefits.

“Mario loves his work and is great with students,” Merrill said. “We appreciate the conscientious work he does and hope his employment evolves into full-time work with more food preparation duties.”

Merrill added that he earned the position, which was both competitive and advertised.

Montana does everything from clearing the salad bar, cleaning tables and floors, wheeling carts of food, chatting with students to driving a floor cleaning machine.

“He works hard and stays focused on the job at hand until it is finished,” Merrill said. “He knows what to do.”

Montana answered a quick yes when asked if he likes his work, focused more on the job at hand than the questioner, his eyes anxiously glancing at the floor cleaning machine. Once on the machine, he fired it up and circled the room with an expression of purpose and pride. The floor sparkled when he finished.

Merrill said an example of his attention to his work was when he was told he could not use the machine to clean floors.

“He took it upon himself to get a mop and bucket and do the work,” she said. “He knew the floor had to be done and he did it. He did not want to disappoint the staff.”

His mother, Cheryl Montana, said she and her husband, Rick, couldn’t be happier with their son’s employment and the independence that comes with it.

“He has climbed many obstacles and we were blown away when he was offered the job,” she said. “He is very comfortable here at the school, and we are grateful for all the support the school has given to Mario. They have been wonderful to us.”

Merrill said the department and school continue to appreciate Mario for his hard work and big heart.

“He is a great kid and we are pleased for him,” she said.

David Leaming — 861-9255

[email protected]


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