THORNDIKE — Mario Montana has faced many challenges since he was born with Down syndrome 19 years ago, but one of them won’t be what to do after high school.

He has found work in a familiar place where he is respected and appreciated: the school he graduated from in June with a diploma in the Life Skills program, which included cooking. Montana is an assistant cook and custodian at Mount View High School in Unity-based Regional School Unit 3.

Down syndrome is a genetic condition that generally includes mild to moderate intellectual impairment.

Montana’s experience, hard work ethic and ability to get along with students made him an easy choice for the position, according to nutrition director Cherie Merrill. He works four hours a day and gets benefits.

“Mario loves his work and is great with students,” Merrill said. “We appreciate the conscientious work he does and hope his employment evolves into full-time work with more food preparation duties.”

Merrill said he earned the position, which was both competitive and advertised.

Montana does everything from clearing the salad bar and cleaning tables and floors to wheeling carts of food and chatting with students.

“He works hard and stays focused on the job at hand until it is finished,” Merrill said.

Montana answered with a quick yes when asked if he likes his work, focused more on the job at hand than the questioner, his eyes anxiously glancing at a floor cleaning machine. Once on the machine, he circled the room with an expression of purpose and pride. The floor sparkled when he finished.

Merrill said an example of his attention to his work was when he was told he could not use the machine to clean floors.

“He took it upon himself to get a mop and bucket and do the work,” she said. “He knew the floor had to be done. He did not want to disappoint the staff.”

His mother, Cheryl Montana, said she and her husband, Rick, couldn’t be happier with their son’s employment and the independence that comes with it.

“He has climbed many obstacles, and we were blown away when he was offered the job,” she said.

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer David Leaming can be contacted at 861-9255 or at: [email protected]