Indreika gives a pep talk to all those competing in the IHSA journalism competitions.
Indreika gives a pep talk to all those competing in the IHSA journalism competitions.
Mary Long

English teacher Mark Indreika forms notable legacy

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Indreika stands with AMCSI founder Ani Samargian at the 12th annual Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita conference.

It’s fifth period on what appears to most as just another unremarkable day of the week, yet for the students in classroom A314, there’s a sort of jittery energy in the air. At once, every student begins to slide and shift the rickety desks into a rather uneven circle, as today is what some may consider the most nerve racking moment of being in English 2 honors— discussion day.

Backpacks rustle as a wave of beat up and crumpled copies of “The Catcher in the Rye” arise atop the desks, and everyone in the room knows that someone is going to have to start the discussion off, whether they want to or not. A wall of silence presents itself, as everybody awkwardly stares at the movie posters on the wall, the beige linoleum floor and out the window at the gray sky, only being infiltrated by a sarcastic voice that says, “Don’t all raise your hands at once everyone.”

That notable line comes from English teacher Mark Indreika, who has been teaching English at DGS since 1996, an alum graduating in 1984. Indreika has a physical condition called Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita (AMC), which is commonly characterized by contractures in the limbs. Each case is completely unique per diagnosis and can range in severity, but Indreika lives his life like everyone else does.

In Indreika’s case, he is affected in both his legs and arms, but primarily in his arms, as the required muscles never fully developed while he was in the womb. His elbows are fused in a bent position and his wrists are also fused to his arm, causing him to use his core for balance. Due to these contractures, he uses all kinds of adaptations in his daily life, like in his car, which has a steering wheel on the floor that he controls with his feet.

“I mean, my students help me do things sometimes, but I think the assumption is that able bodied people think that it should have some sort of impact. But if you’ve been born disabled and you don’t know anything else, then it’s kind of hard to say. I mean, I guess my disability shapes every aspect of my personality, I guess. I don’t really think about it,” Indreika said.

To some students, being in Indreika’s English class may seem challenging during those first few weeks, but it doesn’t take long for them to begin to be able to understand and connect. Indreika is able to achieve these connections with his students by doing one simple thing: being down to earth.

I try to be really personable and non threatening. I just think it’s really important to establish a personal relationship with kids, and I also use humor–you know–like a lunatic, which is just what I do because I have fun doing that. So I mean, I just try to be serious and yet not serious at the same time.”

— Indreika

Indreika stands with AMCSI founder Ani Samargian at the 12th annual Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita conference. (Alicia McCavanagh)

Like anybody who just started a new experience, it took time and practice for Indreika to get his methods and abilities to where they are now.

“I didn’t know how to manage [a lesson plan], but I thought I did. So that ended up being kind of humiliating and yet extremely valuable experience because I ended up having to learn from my mistakes. So had I not had that experience, I don’t think I’d be the jovial happy English teacher I am today,” Indreika said.

English teacher Mary Long is the current advisor of the Blueprint, and she was a student of Indreika’s back in 1996, his first year working at DGS. She remembers her first time stepping into his class, curious about how he is affected.

“…Because I hadn’t had a teacher with a physical disability. And whenever you meet someone who has a different experience than you, you’re able to see different things, like how he would pick up things, or open and shut doors or how it impacts him. But then, everything else, you know, was like the same kind of, you know, classroom experience,” Long said.

Senior Sara Ryan felt those anxieties at first when she was just starting in Indreika’s class, but she came to realize that his intentions are for her own benefit.

“My first impression was that his class seemed difficult and that I was going to have a lot of trouble with his course work. I quickly found out that his class is only challenging because he wants to push us to our full-potential. He gives us all the means and resources to succeed in his class too,” Ryan said.

Sophomore Lukas Meliukstis is currently a student in Indreika’s English II Honors class, and he really enjoys how personable Indreika is. Although he has only been a student of Indreika’s for a short period of time so far, he knows that building a relationship improves his quality of learning.

“I think just at the end of class, like towards the end of August and September, I talked to him about the Basketball World Cup. He’s half Lithuanian, which is what I am and something we have in common, and he showed great interest in it, and I liked that we both have similar interests about basketball. Like it’s fun to relate to a teacher when you know, just come here just to get schoolwork done, but it’s actually more fun when the teachers you [have] see you as a friend sometimes, and it just makes the learning experience better,” Meliukstis said.

On top of being a long-time attendee of the annual AMC conferences, Indreika has also written for the AMCSI newsletter.

Indreika is able to impact student’s lives in a positive way, as Long saw when she was a student at DGS.

“I was super shy, and so he made me feel smart and that he saw me, and he was the person that said, you’re going to be on newspaper next year, and you’re going to be an editor and that was like, not on my radar, and you just can’t say no to Mr. Indreika,” Long said.

Indreika sees just how much of an impact he has on people, even if he doesn’t realize it in the moment.

“I think the most significant moments probably are the ones you just don’t even know about. Kids will come back to you years after you’ve had them in class. You won’t even remember who they are, and they’ll say that I made a really big impact in their lives,” Indreika said.

As he grew up prior to the introduction of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the experience for most disabled school-age children at the time was insufficient for receiving adequate care. Even though the situation for Indreika was very limited, he refused to let that hold him back from reaching his potential.

“I’d also have to talk about my grandmother, grandma, because she’s the one who taught me how to read because when I was in school, as a kid, they stuck me in an elementary school classroom with just a bunch of disabled kids, one teacher three grade levels. I just assumed that I would do something, because my parents, my mom and dad and my grandmother, tutored me for two summers got me caught up. Otherwise I would have fallen behind and never got caught up,” Indreika said.

The lessons he learned from his family are still mirrored within his classes. Indreika is a big believer in the idea of never giving up on a student, no matter who they are, as he knows very well the importance of always supporting those who need it. He recalls a moment when he swooped in to help one of his students succeed who was struggling with an assignment.

“I suppose I could have just given her an F. But you know, she came in every day after school and worked on it for about, I don’t know, 2, 3, 4 weeks on it, and it ended up being a really good paper. And, you know, I mean, this is a kid that I could have just let go,” Indreika said.

Students of Indreika are immediately taught that they should never be afraid to ask for help, as he makes it clear that he is there to support their journey to success in life.

“Mr. Indreika taught me that you can always improve and make more revisions on essays. No matter how many drafts and revisions I made, he always showed me another way I could improve. He helped me to grow as a writer,” Ryan said.

On top of being a long-time attendee of the annual AMC conferences, Indreika has also written for the AMCSI newsletter. (Mark Indreika)

Indreika’s desire to help his students to achieve their maximum potential doesn’t end inside the classroom. Outside of the classroom, Indreika is a coach for the IHSA journalism competitions, where he coaches news writing, sports writing, headline writing and copy-editing. Indreika is also an experienced journalist himself, having been featured in publications like the Chicago Tribune.

Alum Catherine Hewawissa competed in news writing, and she feels that competing was worth her while, not only in terms of the knowledge and newfound skills she gained, but also for the memories she made.

“Let’s just say there was never a dull moment during practices with Mr. Indreika. Maya Homberg, Kate Dziewinski, Anthony Addante and I all had to get to school super early multiple days a week for our 7 a.m. practices and since we were all working on different categories, it was both super interesting and entertaining to hear the details about someone else’s job and work through Mr Indreika’s often shouted feedback. He was incredibly committed to what we were working on but also understanding. During the state series, I was in the middle of tech for the spring musical and had a super packed schedule, so he always went out of his way to accommodate my schedule and make sure I was able to balance everything,” Hewawissa said.

Hewawissa also learned invaluable lessons while working with Indreika, which helped her become a better writer.

Something he would tell me every time I was about to write a story was ‘don’t chase the shiny object,’ meaning what immediately jumps out at you probably isn’t the ‘news.’ This mantra of sorts encouraged me to consider impact and look into the future of what really needed to be addressed in my writing. While I don’t find myself writing news articles all that often anymore, I think the idea of not chasing the shiny object has really helped me think critically about the news I hear and the media I interact with.”

— Hewawissa

Ultimately, Indreika knows how integral being disabled is to his life, and he wouldn’t give that up for anything. The reason this is all possible for Indreika stems from one simple thing: his pragmatic yet appreciative personality.

“I will not be any happier, in fact, I might even be worse. The most miserable people ever again in my life are perfectly able. They’re freaking miserable,” Indreika said.

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About the Contributors
Owen Chaidez
Owen Chaidez, Editor-in-Chief
Senior Owen Chaidez is an Editor-In-Chief for the DGS Blueprint. He is an honors student who is dedicated to bringing awareness to the daily lives and struggles of people with disabilities, as he has a disability called Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita. His journey with journalism began his sophomore year, where he was a member of the Blueprint club writing reviews. From there he became an Entertainment Editor in his junior year, continuing to write about pop culture and the importance of inclusion and representation of those with disabilities. Outside of school, he is a member of the King’s Scholar program at the Brookfield Zoo, where he gets the opportunity to educate guests about the exhibits and conservation science. He hopes to attend the University of Illinois to eventually become a veterinary radiologist.
Mary Long
Mary Long, Adviser
Mary Long teaches TV 1, TV 2, Writing for Broadcast, Creative Writing, Journalistic Expression and Advanced Journalistic Writing at DGS. Prior to working at DGS, she taught in Wisconsin for eight years and in Cicero, Il for one year. Her undergraduate degree is from the University of Iowa where she triple majored in journalism, English and art. While in Iowa City, she wrote for two daily papers. She also has two Masters degrees: one in Teaching from National-Louis University the other is in Journalism from The University of Alabama. She is married and has two kids and two cats. She enjoys cooking, playing with her children, watching bad TV and going to her children's soccer games. If you are an adviser looking for journalism help, check out this website.
Mark Indreika
Mark Indreika, Adviser
Mark Indreika has been an English teacher at DGS since 1996. He graduated from DGS in 1984, and he attended Northern Illinois University where he received degrees in English and journalism. He advised The Blueprint, teaching the advanced journalism class for eight years. He is now happy to assist Ms. Long, his former student. He has coached news writing, headline writing, copyediting, and sports writing in the IHSA journalism competition. He looks forward to helping coach the team to victory again this year.

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