NEW ULM - Much of Carolyn Drexler's life has happened in the District 88 school system.
After growing up in New Ulm and graduating from New Ulm High School, she spent approximately 30 years working for New Ulm Public Schools.
Drexler, a paraprofessional at the high school, is retiring at the end of this school year.
Staff photo by Kremena Spengler
Carolyn Drexler, a paraprofessional at New Ulm High School, is retiring at the end of this school year.
Drexler started her first job with the schools in 1983; a supervisor in the Jefferson Elementary cafeteria. She worked 2 1/2 hours a day.
Four years later, in 1987, as she felt a need to "work more with the students," she took the opportunity to apply for a position as a paraprofessional.
She got the job, and she worked one-on-one with a student with disabilities, starting at Washington Elementary and staying with the student through his graduation.
Subsequent years took her to the Junior High and High School, providing support for students with emotional and behavior disorders. Primarily, she worked with one teacher who would also became her best friend.
After her best friend's retirement, Drexler spent the last seven or eight years in the autism program. She "hung in there" until she could see the students she started with in seventh grade graduate from high school.
Over time, Drexler's job evolved from providing very specialized, one-on-one physical help, to providing more academic help: helping students track and focus on a subject.
The style of delivery of special education changed over time, as well, from the children coming to a teacher's room, to a more inclusive model, with teachers and paraprofessionals following a student from classroom to classroom.
What has not changed, however, is building that special relationship with students.
"They are wonderful kids," says Drexler. "They become very special to you; very much like your own kids."
Over time, her students have grown and become her friends. Just this spring, for example, two of her former students have asked her to their weddings.
She has always believed in treating the students as she would treat her own children, says Drexler.
"Challenge them, have expectations for them... I always wanted them to expect something from themselves, and I think they have."
This philosophy is mirrored in her response to a question about any advice she would give to the next person in her position:
"Keep your expectations high. Hold [the students] up to a standard, give them something to achieve, and make them work for it. All of us, myself included, always need to be working toward something."
Drexler has especially enjoyed working with the older, senior-high-age, students.
They are "young adults," aware of where they are headed, says Drexler.
The best part of her job has been watching the students "blossom," become productive, well-mannered adults, says Drexler.
Many will also remember Drexler as a talented costumer. A gifted seamstress, for 18 years, she scoured countless thrift stores and designed and constructed the costumes for many musicals and plays. She often stayed up past midnight, becoming indispensable to directors Gary Maki and Wendy Tuttle. Those who worked with her have described her as "a workhorse" and "nothing short of a miracle worker on many an occasion."
"It was very rewarding, seeing it all come together on stage," said Drexler, of her work on costumes. "It also gave me a chance to work with a different group; the kids who wanted to be there, who were already motivated to do this."
Drexler plans to pursue her sewing talent, in some shape and form, in retirement: "play with it," perhaps, by continuing to create doll clothes (she has made and donated many of those).
She also plans to farm with her husband, and she looks forward to being able to travel and visit her children whenever she would like, and not just on holidays.