When students returned to classes at Yosemite High School (YHS) after the new year, for the first time in 27 years, there was no Drosche family member in Lori Blate’s Madera County Special Day Class housed on the campus.
Ann and J.D. Drosche had five children born to them. But that was just a warm-up for the 17 children they have adopted and parented. “All of the adopted children were disabled to some extent,” Ann said. “Three were not severely disabled but considered to be ‘hard to place for adoption’ and have done very well.”
It is because of the children’s disabilities that the family developed a relationship with teacher Blate when they moved from Texas to the Coarsegold area in 1990 after visiting on a vacation trip.
“It feels similar to saying goodbye to a family member that goes off to college. I have had nine of their children go through my program and leave at age 22,” Blate said. “Therefore, I have had them for at least eight to nine years when they leave. I also had more than one or two children in my program at a time. So, yes, it will be so strange not to hear from mom or dad on a weekly basis and not to know all the family happenings.”
“Lori Blate is a once in a lifetime teacher,” Ann said.”She makes opportunities for her students where they are not existent. She is dedicated to each and every one of her students and is there for life, not just for their school career.”
Blate believes her teacher role means helping her students develop consumer and daily living skills. Students study current events and they learn about grocery shopping and banking. During a classroom visit, students were cooking inauguration pizza, with red tomatoes, white mushrooms and a blue Gatorade beverage. She gently reminds a student to excuse himself when passing between two conversing adults.
The Drosches have also provided many opportunities for their children’s involvement in the community through Special Olympics, bowling clubs and gymnastics classes. The family is frequently seen at YHS activities including football and basketball games, dances, theater arts productions, band performances and field trips.
“This is a family that gives back to the community,” Blate said. “You can pretty much ask them to volunteer at any event in the community such as the Relay for Life and they come charging with a group of eight or more. They have helped out in many fundraisers for the high school and can be seen pitching in at many community activities.”
“I try to keep in touch with all my students and their families,” Blate said. “I know the Drosche family and I will stay close. They are my family.” Her own four children, all YHS graduates, ask about the Drosche family members who were at the high school when they were there. “We have often organized visits when my children came home from college so that they could get together with the Drosche family. And to this very day all the Drosche children are so excited about the births of my two grandsons that they have written letters and we share pictures on email.”
One of Blate’s favorite memories of her experiences with the Drosche children is an event in 2014. The Associated Student Body presented Robbie Drosche with a letterman jacket embroidered with his name and the dates of his time at YHS. Many remember Robbie leading class cheers at pep rallies and as one of the most enthusiastic supporters at many YHS sporting events.
“You have never seen anyone so excited in your entire life, like he had just won the lottery,” said Blate. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the house and he received a standing ovation. The joy and acceptance by our high school students and administration over all my years of service have been overwhelming and warms my heart. I know of no other place that has been so wonderful to my population of students.
“I’d like to add that you would think that this would be the most challenging moment for a special education teacher to get her students accepted and included, mainstreamed if you will, on a high school campus and I am sure I had a few struggles but none that come to mind.”
The number of YHS students who have enrolled in a class to serve as teachers’ assistants is evidence of that acceptance by the general population of students. Next door to Blate’s classroom is Jen Pasley Garner’s special education classroom. Garner, a 1996 graduate, is just one of many of those teachers’ assistants who have gone on to careers in education. Tricia (Parks) Ruiz, a special education teacher on the Coarsegold campus is another of Blate’s former teachers’ assistants and was recently honored for her outstanding performance as a teacher.
All four of Gary and Lori Blate’s children were also teachers’ assistants in her classroom when they attended YHS. Daughter Karras Blate Hacker is now an education specialist at Carmel Creek Elementary School in San Diego and son Mac is a school counselor at Whitney High School in Rocklin.
Currently living in the Drosche home are Linda, 39; Becky, 37; Joel and Kevin, 35; Mike and Sharon, 34; Vaughn, 33; Jared, 29; Robbie, 24; Christian, 22, and Will, 21. All of these children were Blate’s students except for Will.
The Drosche’s daughter Jackie and husband Damascus live in Oakhurst with their three children, three sons and one daughter and their respective families live in Texas. “The remainder of our children have passed with complications of their disabilities,” Ann explained. “We are able to keep going because of our faith,” Ann said. “Without the Lord God we would not have been inspired to begin such an undertaking and certainly would not have the stamina or the direction to continue.”
That stamina helps Ann and J.D. deal with medical issues and day-to-day necessities. They are able to do that “because we are a family and that is what families do,” Ann said. “Our kids are very important to us.” Ann and JD are assisted in the care of these children by helpers in their home, “all of whom have become like family and are much valued advisers as well as workers with our kids.”
Ann readily lists friends and supporters from Mountain Hope Association, Social Vocational Services, YHS, their church and others from the Mountain Area who give the family support and inspiration to push on and encourage them to enjoy each day with their family.
“The most challenging thing, predictably, is lack of time to have all the fun we want to have and to do all the work we would like to do with each and every child,” Ann said. And all of this happens as she plans a trip to Texas to celebrate her mother’s 100th birthday.
The philosophy that has given this family focus is best articulated by Ann.“There are many rewarding things about such a large family. Each member is so different and each is so loving and loyal to the family. It is like piling blessing on top of blessing to see how each additional one adds to our family.”