Stillwater High School senior had same paraprofessional for 13 years – Twin Cities

Emily Kargel met Cindy Williams-McClung on her first day of kindergarten at Lake Elmo Elementary School in the fall of 2010.

Emily loved horses and art projects and music; she had long hair. Williams-McClung, the educational paraprofessional assigned to help Emily navigate school, loved horses and art projects and music; she had long hair.

The two were destined to become best friends, as Williams-McClung tells it.

Thirteen years later, the pair are still together. On Friday, they’ll don cap and gown as Emily graduates from Stillwater Area High School.

They are believed to be the only student/paraprofessional duo who have been together for all 13 school years in the Stillwater district.

As soon as you meet them, it’s clear the two share a special bond. “We’re girlfriends, besties,” Williams-McClung said. “I’m one of her posse.”

‘Believe in them, then they believe in you’

During teacher Jason Rohde’s Clay & Pottery class on Wednesday morning, the two worked together to make a rain lantern. The task required rolling chunks of clay into coils and then forming them into the body of the lantern.

“Can you do it on your own?” Williams-McClung asked as she guided Emily’s left hand with her own. “Back and forth, that’s right. We’ll get it a little thinner. Here you go, kiddo. Roll! Roll! You can do it. Good job. … Remember, then we do our song. ‘And we’re rolling, rolling, rolling.’ That gets her every time. We have a song for everything, don’t we?”

Emily smiled as she listened to Williams-McClung’s patter and broke into a wide grin when she started singing.

“If a child knows you believe in them, then they believe in you,” Williams-McClung said. “It’s that simple. It’s all in how you treat them — and people don’t understand that. People think, ‘Oh, they can’t learn,’ but they are as smart — if not smarter, in some ways — than any person in the world. Emily is a very smart little whip, I’ll tell you.”

Emily, 18, lives in Baytown Township with her parents, Mike and Kristy, and sister, Isabelle, 15. She loves art and music and has a great sense of humor. Her favorite musical artists are ABBA, Sara Bareilles, Jason Mraz, Pink, the Chicks and Katy Perry — in that order. She loves young-adult murder mystery books with crazy plot twists, the “Mamma Mia” movie soundtrack, the occasional shopping spree and getting her hair and nails done. She’ll be wearing a lilac dress with a lace-up back and tulle skirt to prom on Saturday night.

She’s not shy about letting her opinions be known. If she doesn’t like something, she will try to push it away, Williams-McClung said. “Or you can tell by her eyes, too,” she said. “A lot of it is her facial expressions. Huh, kiddo?”

Rare genetic disorder

Paraprofessional Cindy Williams-McClung, right, works with Emily Kargel, 18, of Baytown Township, during Emily’s art class at Stillwater Area High School. Cindy has been Emily’s paraprofessional for 13 years. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

Emily understands everything cognitively that an 18-year-old would understand, but “she just doesn’t have that ability to spit that back without us either asking her questions or putting an (eye-gaze) communication device in front of her,” Kristy Kargel said.

Emily was born with a rare genetic disorder on her sodium channel called SCN2A, which results in intractable seizures, dystonia and dysautonomia. She is not able to speak verbally or walk or move independently.

Kristy Kargel was 38 weeks pregnant when Emily was born in 2005 at Woodwinds Hospital in Woodbury. She was born via emergency cesarean section because she was in the breech position and because of a lack of amniotic fluid in Kargel’s womb.

“Her Apgar scores were 9 and 9, and there was no indication of any illness or anything being wrong,” Kargel said. “She slept through the first night, and the nurses had to wake her and attempt for her to breastfeed on me. She never really cried or indicated anything was wrong.”

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