It was the first day of my first year of teaching and I was a nervous wreck. In my head I knew that I had no reason to be nervous about meeting toddlers, but I felt this nervousness/excitement to meet them and form lasting relationships with them. The first student who walked through the door was this timid, yet happy, boy who was curious about his new classroom. I was closest to the door, so I offered to give him a tour. During the tour, he was asking so many questions about what toys were in the class and what kind of books were in the library. I could tell from the first few minutes that this little boy was excited about learning... which is music to a teacher's ears! As the rest of the day went on, we started forming an even closer bond and were adjusting to our new schedule.
This little boy has faced more challenges in his short life than most will experience in their lifetime, but there was not one moment on that first day that I associated him with his past- all I saw was a capable, funny, smart, and caring student of mine! Even though he used a white cane to navigate the hallways of our school and was learning Braille while the other students were not, he faced every challenge head on. He taught me to change my way of thinking and how to adapt to each individual child's needs. I became more sensitive with his needs, which in turn, made me more sensitive to the other student's needs. This change of thinking challenged me to be a better teacher and all-around human being.
I was lucky enough to spend the entire summer with him as his nanny, and it was one of the best summers that I have had! I continued learning from him and I learned how to be his advocate in the "real world" outside of school. When we went to the mall, I became protective of the way people looked and treated us and wanted to make sure that everyone around us understood what an incredible boy he was. For outsiders, it was easy for them to stare and wonder why he was walking with a white cane, but I wanted them to see past his walking tool and for them to see his heart (because boy they were missing out)!
That summer, the mother had scheduled to have their family pictures taken by a photographer in town. I remember her saying how difficult the session was because the little boy was unfamiliar with the photographer. He wasn't as comfortable as she wanted him to be and there seemed to be a disconnect between the children and the photographer. In that moment, I had an "ahh ha" moment. I realized that I could use both of my passions (photography and children with developmental disabilities) to better serve families who have a hard time getting their pictures taken.
The more I got to know this family, I realized that there are not many local photographers that offer sessions to children that have developmental disabilities. After more than a year of praying and thinking about how I wanted to help these families, I quit my job as a teacher and opened up McKenzie Coronado Photography. Do I miss teaching? Everyday. Do I miss my old school? Of course! But, do I think that I did the right thing in following my heart and my passion? Absolutely. I have had the honor of working with children of all abilities, seeing families grow over time, experiencing couple's during their happiest of times, and photographing proud seniors graduating to their new adventure in life.
DeSantis family, thank you for letting me be a part of your world and for opening up my eyes to the endless possibilities. And to Leo, you have changed me in more ways than I can imagine. You will forever be my student, friend, and brainiac! Thank you for your inspiration and for challenging my dreams and beliefs. You are so so so loved.
I left this session with a big lump in my throat thinking about how my life has come full circle. To say that my heart is grateful is just an understatement.