Future Reflections                                                                                      Summer/Fall, 2002

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Emilie’s School Spirit Shows
by Anna Nguyen

Reprinted from the St. Paul Pioneer Press EXPRESS, Monday, December 17, 2001, under the title, “Go Hawks.”

Editor’s Note: Emilie’s mother, Barbara Schultz, is the president of the Minnesota affiliate of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), and the coordinator and resource person for the NOPBC Blind and Multiply-Impaired Network. Emilie is one of eight children in the Schultz household. Despite the obvious time and energy required in raising Emilie (who is autistic, hearing impaired, and blind) and her other children, Barbara always finds time to talk with parents of newly-diagnosed blind children, steer them to needed resources, and organize parent seminars and other activities for families of blind children in Minnesota.

Emilie Schultz in her official Hawkes cheerleading outfit
Emilie Schultz in her official Hawkes cheerleading outfit

Emilie Schultz’s school spirit shows. The 17-year-old is a member of her St. Paul high school’s adaptive cheerleading squad, which supports other student athletes with physical and mental disabilities.

“Five, Six, Seven, Eight!” screams out St. Paul Humbolt High School senior Emilie Schultz as she and nine other cheerleaders proceed to chant: “If you wanna be the best in the state, you have to fly like a Hawk to be great!”

Emilie is part of the Humboldt Hawks’ adaptive cheerleading squad, a 6-year-old group that lends its support to the adaptive sports teams that are designed for students who have physical and health impairments or mental disabilities. Fresh from supporting the adaptive soccer team’s 12-game schedule, the squad is ready to cheer the school’s adaptive floor hockey team, which began its season earlier this month. Humbold’s adaptive sports team program—now in its 20th year—is involved in four activities: softball and bowling as well as the soccer and floor hockey competitions. The adaptive sports teams compete with similar school teams from as far away as Brainerd.

Students from 54 Minnesota schools participate in at least some adaptive sports, says Kris Swanson-Schones, adaptive athletic director for St. Paul Public Schools. (Students from schools that do not have adaptive athletics can join programs at schools that do have teams.) About 50 students take part in Humbolt’s adaptive sports program, and each has an Individual Education Plan put together by St. Paul Public Schools aimed at helping the students succeed.

For Emile, 17, that means a busy day of four classes, a part-time job-training program and cheerleading practices. The mix of activities is meant to help her cope with multiple challenges: She is blind, deaf in one ear, and has a severe mental impairment that was diagnosed about two years ago as autism.

“Activities such as cheerleading help to give her exposure to what other people are doing and get her outside of herself,” says her mother, Barb Schultz, noting that Emilie otherwise has tended to keep to herself.

“In the squad, I use pompoms and cheer,” Emilie says. “My favorite part is singing the national anthem.”

Emilie, a native of the Philippines, was adopted by Barb and Rob Schultz after they got to know the orphan during the six months she was in foster care with Barb’s parents. At age one and in need of specialized eye care, Emilie was brought here by a staff worker from the children’s Shelter of Cebu, a Philipine orphanage run by Minnesotans. Because of her health, the government there decided to let her stay in the United States.

The Schultzes, over time, began to realize that Emilie would not develop like other children, Barb says, but she has always been treated like any other member of the family. Emilie, her mother says, enjoys celebrating birthdays, and she get plenty of chances with seven
siblings—five brothers and two sisters.

Since beginning kindergarten, Emilie has had nearly daily help from Patricia Grundhauser, a one-on-one “Intervener” provided by the school system. In that role, Grundhauser helps Emilie communicate with others and explains her condition to new people Emilie meets.

Emilie’s situation, for example, can often be misunderstood by students who just assume she will recognize them after they’ve met only once, Grundhauser explains. When they first meet her, they don’t realize that she can’t see because Emilie has a prosthetic eye. She can perceive only light in her other eye because of glaucoma.

Each day, Grundhauser adapts school materials to Emilie’s needs, assists Emilie in forming relationships with other students, and aids other students in Emilie’s classes if needed.

Their 12-year journey together through the St. Paul school system is rare. Most of the one-on-one relationships, Grundhauser says, don’t work long-term because some students become too dependent on the intervener, or their personalities can begin to clash through the years. But that has not happened in Emilie’s case. Their relationship has been wonderful, says Barb Schultz, because Grundhauser understands Emilie’s mood and her style of learning. “Emilie would rather be left alone with her autism,” Schultz says. “Patricia knows when to push her and when to stop.”

Grundhauser’s opportunity to work with Emilie grew out of her interview for a library position intended for children with math and reading problems. The interviewer noticed her previous work with a blind teacher and informed her of a new blind kindergartner at Mississippi Creative Arts School who would need help. Grundhauser says she was immediately intrigued by the opportunity and remains so because every day with Emilie is different. “It’s a challenge to keep everything going for Emilie and find new things to do so Emilie doesn’t get bored,” she says.

When asked about the most difficult part of her day, Emilie responds immediately, “I have to get up early in the morning.” Each day the bus picks her up at 6:30 a.m. Emilie begins her school day with special education classes that include computer skills, reading Braille, writing, and speech. Emilie knows that the difficulties of these classes are the daily struggles she has to overcome, and Grundhauser helps to keep her calm when she becomes frustrated. “My favorite classes are math, basketball, and typing,” Emilie says.

For the second half of Emilie’s school day, the two go to Emilie’s job-training site at Bethel Care Center in St. Paul, where she washes and folds clothes and delivers laundry with Grundhauser’s assistance.

When Emilie finishes high school in May, she will be enrolled in a four year St. Paul Public Schools community-based transition program for students who are no longer involved in a traditional high school program. Emilie can be part of the public school system until she is 22. The program, Transition to Independence, will help her by providing more job training and experience in getting around the community by Metro Transit. Grundhauser plans to continue accompanying her in the new program.

Through the years, Grundhauser says, she has seen Emilie become more independent and communicate better with both her peers and adults. Grundhauser is amazed by Emilie’s ability to remember names. “Once Emilie does recognize someone, she does not forget. Emilie and I are a great team together. I am her eyes and she is my memory,” Grundhauser says. As if to prove her point, a few moments later, when a student yells “Hi” from far away, Emilie responds immediately with the girl’s name and a warm smile.

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