Her 45-year mission: helping students who 'couldn't' learn Parents praise Makolin at retirement party

July 19, 1992|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

The 15 students sitting across from Jewell Makolin wanted to learn math, but couldn't.

She wanted to know why, and embarked on a 45-year career in special education that eventually brought her to lead the programs for Carroll County schools.

During that time, she witnessed a revolution in her field.

It wasn't until the late 1960s that educators began to identify and work with disorders that make learning difficult for otherwise intelligent people.

"It just confirmed what I had seen in a number of kids -- there was something that got in the way of learning," said Mrs. $H Makolin. "They were bright as they can be."

Now 65 and retired at a home tucked at the wooded bottom of a hill just outside Westminster, Mrs. Makolin remembers the children in her first years of teaching.

The Carroll County parents who flocked to her retirement party last month credit her with the success of their children, said Patricia Bucher of Mount Airy, whose 15-year-old son is autistic.

"Judy Makolin is one of those extraordinary people who has the strength, the intelligence and the will to dramatically change lives for the better," said Mrs. Bucher.

Mrs. Bucher and her husband struggled with teachers and psychologists for years trying to figure out the best way to educate their son, who was an unusual case, she said.

The whole time she felt Mrs. Makolin always believed her and trusted her to know her son.

"That sounds like such a simple thing, but when you have a special child, nobody listens to you," she said. "These kids don't do for other people what they do at home."

In the 1940s, when Mrs. Makolin was Judy Haines of Woodbine, the Western Maryland College graduate began teaching high school in Montgomery County.

She started with social studies, but eventually told the principal, "Give me anything," hoping for a challenge.

"He said, 'We have a group of boys who are just not very good at math.' I didn't know anything about learning disabilities. Neither did anybody else then," she said.

She found they could learn under some conditions, but she was mostly baffled and very curious, so she enrolled in the University of Michigan to study special education and then teach in Baltimore public schools for a year.

While in Michigan, she met her future husband, Albert Makolin.

The Rev. Makolin was minister at St. Benjamin's and St. John's Lutheran churches in Westminster before he died in 1976. When she wasn't in schools, Mrs. Makolin was often at her husband's side, writing and giving dialogue sermons and leading classes. They had a daughter, Helen, who lives in Massachusetts.

Now that she's retired, Mrs. Makolin hopes to spend more time visiting her daughter and researching and writing about Martin Luther. She already has written a small book on correspondence between Luther and his wife, Katie.

In Baltimore during 1948, she had a class of mentally retarded children in an elementary school. While there, she encountered a young boy whose teacher often sent him into the hall when he misbehaved. He would gradually scoot his chair down toward Mrs. Makolin's classroom and watch through the door.

She persuaded his teacher to let him join her class, even though he was not retarded.

"You could tell [he was bright] by the answers he would give in class to questions," she said. "I'd love to know what happened to him."

She tried to find out, but didn't get far: "Evidently, he didn't do very well."

Mrs. Makolin continued to teach and became a guidance counselor, working in Michigan with severely retarded children.

After that she went to Gettysburg, Pa., and worked in regular education, which "brought me back to normal and made me see how they learn," she said. "If they could learn that way, what's keeping so-and-so from learning that way?"

She came to Carroll County schools in 1963 and was as a guidance counselor until the early 1970s, when she was hired to create a special-education program.

In 1972, the federal government increased money for special education, and Mrs. Makolin secured several grants to build up services for Carroll County.

"I loved every minute of it," she said. "It was so rewarding. I could see the results of it. There were times I did not have the budget I wanted. Most of what I got, I got through federal money."

Mrs. Bucher, who spoke at Mrs. Makolin's retirement party, said other parents she called while preparing her comments gave dramatic praise about how Mrs. Makolin listened to them, let them cry in her office, helped them accept their emotions and often gave out her home phone number.

"One of them said, 'She was always like a mother to our kids, but even more than that, she's been like a mother to us,' " she said.

In many school systems, special education officials must be in the position of saying no, Mrs. Bucher said, but Mrs. Makolin often found ways to say yes, such as by fighting for her budget, whether locally or in Washington. The two met 10 years ago when Mrs. Makolin organized parents to join her in lobbying Congress.

Harry Fogle, who was Mrs. Makolin's assistant before succeeding her in February, said she had the same supportive attitude for her staff.

Mrs. Makolin said she believed the key to a good program was good teachers who believed the students could succeed.

"I believe that a child who is handicapped can be more handicapped by the adult than by his handicap," she said.

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