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June 22, 2013

Called 'Next Stephen Hawking,' teen is perfect on math exam

Physically challenged freshman visits classroom for first time to celebrate exam results

LEWISTON, N.Y. — There's a wall on the third floor of Lewiston-Porter High School dedicated to celebrating perfect scores on state mathematics exams.

A new name joined the growing list Tuesday, which brought a smile to the face of everyone involved. Matthew Minderler, a 15-year-old freshman at the school, scored his 100 on the Integrated Algebra exam a few days ago.

"I thought I did OK, but I was excited," Matthew said of learning his score. "I thought I got most of them right."

But Matthew's story isn't typical of teenagers his age. He'd never seen his classroom at the school before Tuesday's ceremony, never met his teacher face-to-face. He'd never had pointless conversations at lunch with his buddies.

Matthew suffers from Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a childhood form of muscular dystrophy, and has been wheelchair-bound since he was 3 years old.

"He was diagnosed at the age of one," his mother, Cathy Minderler, said. "We were told he had seven more years to live. He's doubled that."

He can barely speak and uses a ventilator system to deliver medicine allowing him to take deep breaths. His mother keeps him at home as much as possible to avoid coming into contact with germs and illness to keep him safe.

Still, while his body has betrayed him, his mind is as sharp as any other student's. Maybe even more so. And though he's hardly been in the building – he attended once early in the year to have his yearbook photograph taken with the rest of his classmates – a dedicated team of teachers helped ensure his intelligence shone through on his test.

Classroom teacher Jennifer Wanamaker, consultant teacher Vicki Way and home instructor Joyce Copeland made it their mission to provide their student with the best education experience possible. It's not an easy task to accomplish, so they reached into their bag of technology to find a way to reach Matthew in ways impossible only a few short years ago.

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