Before she could talk, Emma Sheppard, of Spokane’s MAP High School, made it her mission to care for those around her.
What started as a habit of bandaging the imaginary wounds of dolls and toys has developed into a burgeoning passion for medicine and Sheppard’s community could not be prouder.
“I have no doubt she will be a nurse someday,” said Sheppard’s math and science teacher Celena Breach. “She’s kind to the other students and caring. She is really good at reminding them what they’re here for and to push through.”
Everyone benefits from encouragement, but Sheppard’s willingness to offer support to other students is especially pertinent at MAP, as it exclusively serves middle and high school youth “dealing with mental illness, nonaggressive behavior (and) normal cognitive and communication levels,” according to Spokane Public Schools.
With an enrollment of only 30 students, MAP’s three teachers and team of therapists are uniquely enabled to offer guidance and measure students’ progress.
This includes a partnership with local vocational training programs such as the NEWTech Skill Center, where Sheppard has begun coursework in health sciences. Students enrolled in NEWTech complete half the day on campus and the other half on-site at the skill center.
Sheppard works part time in food service and participates in sports. She and a partner won first place in a statewide bowling tournament.
“She longboards, loves to read, she’s an excellent artist,” said Amanda Sheppard, without needing a moment to ponder when asked about her daughter’s talents. Emma Sheppard was a featured artist at an exhibition in River Park Square.
Her journey to graduation has not come without challenges, however. In the throes of anxiety and depression, she was referred to the MAP program by a counselor at Chase Middle School who thought the program could suit her needs. Sheppard was hard-working, bright and emotionally intelligent, but she needed more support to harness her full potential.
“I felt like I needed to be perfect in everything I did,” she said. “I wasn’t able to write on (unlined) paper and after about a year or two at MAP, I was able to.”
It is perhaps this drive toward perfection, her mother says, that makes her a successful student. Nevertheless, anxious thoughts creep into Sheppard’s story from time to time and she credits her friends and family with helping her overcome them.
“(My mom) was a big part of my life pretty much all the time and she was there when a lot of people weren’t,” she said.
Also in Sheppard’s corner is longtime friend Nina, who she says has a calming influence and infectiously positive attitude.
“We were on the swings not too long ago, and I said, ‘If you look back, it feels like you’re falling,’ ” recalled Emma Sheppard. “She looked at me confused and said, ‘Don’t you mean it feels like you’re flying?’ “
Entering adulthood – a nuanced marriage of flying and falling – Sheppard readies herself to pursue her dream as a nurse or doctor. Poised for a lifetime of service ahead, Sheppard is one to watch.