The Music Teacher

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Bob Athayde is the most famous person in the town of Lafayette.

He's the music director of Stanley Middle School, where he's been teaching for 34 years. His love for music is infectious, and every kid wants to take his class, even if they have never picked up a musical instrument before.

As a result, more than a quarter of the student body is involved in a band. Many, including Bob's musically gifted children, have become professional musicians. He's won countless awards and says of his students, "If a kid can be sparked, then I'm going to find a way to spark him."

So why was this man mowing my lawn over Memorial Day weekend? Because my 25-year-old son Matthew, who has autism, asked him to.

I first met Bob when Matthew was a student at Stanley. Like every mother in Lafayette, I wanted my son to be involved in the music program, but he was a challenge to teach. I stopped by the band room nervously one afternoon and asked the legendary teacher if we could make something work.


"Absolutely," he said without pause. "Bring him in tomorrow and we'll try a few instruments."

Matthew played the clarinet that year with the help of a devoted teacher's aide. He didn't go on be a brilliant musician, but Mr. Athayde found another way to spark him.

He drove by our house, just around the corner from school one day, saw Matthew mowing our lawn gleefully, and stopped to admire the job. Proud and flattered, Matthew pushed his mower and garden tools to school, stopped at the garden by the band room and went to work.

"Call me when you come home," Mr. Athayde told Matthew when he went away for high school, "Maybe you can teach me how to uses a weed whacker." It is eight years later, and the two work together frequently when Matthew is in town, at our house, at his house, or for neighbors that request their services.

The last time I thanked Bob for being so nice to my son, it occurred to me that he didn't feel sorry for Matthew. Instead, he saw him in a way that I hope others will too -- as a young man with a purpose who had developed into a hard worker and a valued friend.

With a Perspective, I'm Laura Shumaker.