July 9, 2021 by HCDE Communications
Three years ago, HCDE Highpoint School student Isaac Devin Courtney was in reading class with teacher Maria McLean, stuck on an essay topic that would end up changing his life.
The topic was “what do you want for Christmas?”
“He said that he could not get what he wanted for Christmas because he was too old,” McLean said, recalling the raw conversation.
When McLean suggested the seventh grader talk to his parents, he shrugged.
“That’s just it, I don’t have parents,” he said. “I live in a group home. All I ever wanted was a family that wanted me.”
Today, Isaac is in high school, ready to begin the 10th grade, and he has a new last name, Courtney-McLean. After fostering Isaac, the Highpoint teacher and her husband, John, invited him to join their family of eight children, 30 grandchildren and 29 great-grandchildren.
“The finale was Nov. 30, 2020,” said McLean. “The adoption was final, and Isaac is our permanent son.”
McLean worked at Highpoint School for 11 years before retiring this summer. Highpoint is a school for troubled and adjudicated youth who come from their home schools to address behavior issues. Classes are small, and students work to catch up on their academics and behavioral problems. Students typically return to their home schools.
“At Highpoint, teachers honestly care about the kids and form relationships with them by reaching out to them or being open and real when students do the reaching out, and students do a lot of that on our campus,” McLean said. “Students come first on our campus. They are the reason why we are here.”
Highpoint Principal Courtney Waters witnessed the heart that McLean had for her students. Often students would return to visit her, a sure sign of the impact she made upon them.
“She possesses a certain nurturing spirit that lets her students know that she genuinely cares about them, and she will do everything in her power to advocate for them,” Waters said.
McLean remembers the class clown whom she saved after he got wound up in an encounter with another teacher. As the pair walked down the hall, she asked the young man to hold her hand, and some of his anger dissipated. Five years later, she was in the local library when she heard someone shout, “Hey grandma!”
The student and his pregnant wife rushed toward her with wide smiles, and he was in a military uniform.
“You’re the one,” his wife said. “He said you talked to him often, but you listened as much as you talked and always told him that only he had the right and responsibility to control himself… He said you’d always be his special grandma.”
Even though Isaac is McLean’s adopted son, he prefers to call her his grandma, an endearing name she earned from many Highpoint students. Isaac now has a large, extended family who loves him.
“Now I have my own room and get to play sports, and I am in Taekwondo,” he said.
Like most teens, the 16-year-old has a sloppy room and must respond to the demands of his parents, who ask him to straighten it, feed the dog and take out the trash.
“I just grew, I guess,” he said.
Thanks to Highpoint School and the big hearts of two adults Grandma and Grandpa, Isaac now has his Christmas dream come true.