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Being a mother to many

FAMILY:Christine Miller, a paraprofessional educator at Mississinewa High School, stands surrounded by family and students Friday. From left are Donovan Ellsworth, Miller’s granddaughter, Rosella Ellsworth, Miller’s daughter, Hannah Miller, and students Austin Baker, Paige Lain, Cody Cahill and Alana Zerbe.

BY Kaitlin Gebby - kgebby@chronicle-tribune.com

The line between student and family has blurred for Christine Miller and those she helps at Mississinewa High School.

Miller, a paraprofessional at Mississinewa High School, was raised in a troubled home. She said she lived on the streets for most of her life until she was 17 year-old. At that point, she was finally pulled from her home and placed into the foster system.

“Once that happened, I remember being in the patrol car and ready to bolt,” she said. “Even though I’d been calling CPS, crying out for help, begging for someone to take me away, at that point I would have rather stayed with what I knew than face the unknown alone.”

Miller was placed with a family in Peru, with parents she said were “wonderful people,” that helped her become who she is today.

After graduating high school, she started a family of her own. A short time later, she began substitute teaching and discovered her passion for the classroom and acquired her teaching license and has served as a paraprofessional at the high school for the last three years.

Her experiences in her upbringing and the foster system have helped her reach out, becoming a mother of sorts, to students facing tough times of their own.

“I see an opportunity to reach some of these kids that maybe others won’t listen to,” she said. “I try to take a different approach, and I feel that letting them know what I’ve gone through has helped me earn their respect and become someone they can trust.”

A group of students gathered together at Mississinewa High School to share how Miller has influenced their lives as a role model and mother-figure.

Alana Zerbe, a junior, said Miller has helped her in her relationships with others.

“She’s just always been there for me to listen and build me up,” Zerbe said.

Austin Baker, also a junior, said Miller helped him reach out to others.

“Before, I was pretty anti-social. I wouldn’t talk to anyone,” he said.

“Now we can’t get him to shut up.” Hannah Miller, Christine Miller’s daughter and a senior at Mississinewa High School, said. “We’ve created a monster.”

The group laughed and Christine Miller said it was obvious that her daughter and Baker bicker like siblings.

Miller not only treats her students like family, but she is in the process of adopting two former students currently in the foster system, aged 10 and 12.

Her two adopted sons are joining a family of seven other siblings, ranging from ages 18 to 29.

Miller said opening herself up to students at Mississinewa has made her feel whole.

“These kids have filled me up,” she said. “Whether it’s my car, or my house, my life is loud but that’s because it’s full of laughter.”

Serving as a role model and taking in her former students is how Miller said she is giving back to the foster system. Though being the shoulder to cry on can be emotionally exhausting at times, she said she’s always refreshed by time with her newborn granddaughter.

Miller said she’s leaned on the example her foster parents have set for her and her previous homelife for the knowledge to do the right thing when it comes to parenting.

She said most of the example her biological parents set for her was what not to do, and she uses that to uplift her students as well.

“I try to say ‘I love you’ to the students that are like family to me everyday,” she said. “They’re special to me, and I know they need to know that they’re loved. Some of them don’t hear it often enough.”

Although her students will graduate and move on from high school, Miller’s family will likely grow larger, and her house and car louder with laughter, with every passing year.