Talk with Emma Eich, and some of the first things she’s bound to tell you are all of the different loves she has.
She loves playing disc golf with her dad Daniel. She loves her pets — all six of them — as well as her older and younger siblings. She loves watching “Stranger Things” and “Batman” and playing “Minecraft” with friends, when she’s not busy with school.
And oh, does she love school, and she even misses it in the two months since she graduated from Seaman High. She misses singing in the school choir, and playing on the school’s Vikings United teams — in which students with special needs and non-special needs students compete in sports like basketball, bocce ball and soccer throughout the year — as well as the school’s bowling team.
Eich loves life.
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And despite a learning disability, Eich has embraced what could have been a challenge with school and instead has turned it into a tool in which she’s thrived, thanks to the help of family and supporters like Ann Tweedy, a transition coordinator teacher at Seaman who has known Eich since her freshman year.
Eich this week will be one of 19 students at the Kansas Youth Leadership Forum for Students with Disabilities, a forum coordinated by the Kansas Youth Empowerment Academy to help students grow and learn to be contributing members of their communities.
Throughout the week, students will have the chance to meet with mentors, work on transition skills and even tour the Statehouse.
But Eich is especially pumped to go to the typical high school activities the forum will host.
“I’m really excited to go to the talent show and to the dance,” Eich said.
Tweedy, who helped and encouraged Eich to apply for the summer conference, said it’s been her pride to see Eich grow and develop as a person these past four years.
“She has become more confident over time, and it’s really a credit to her hard work that she’s earned this opportunity to participate in the leadership program this summer with KYEA,” Tweedy said. “Emma is a happy, fun person who likes being with people and has a great sense of how everyone can help contribute to making their community better, particularly when it comes to inclusion and variety of activities.”
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After attending the conference, Eich will continue attending a Seaman USD 345 special education program to help students 18 to 21 learn vocational skills and transition to life after school. Near term, she hopes to get a part-time job working alongside her dad at Walmart, with the goal of one day getting to work at Helping Hands Humane Society.
And even though she officially graduated in May, Eich said she’s excited to take these next big steps in her life while still having the support of her school.
“She’s grown so much,” her dad Daniel Eich said. “She still has some growing to do, which is why we’re going to do the 18-21 program, but she’s grown up quite a bit, and it’s been great to see that as a parent.”
Rafael Garcia is an education reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @byRafaelGarcia.