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Rising quickly — Streator High senior leads 5 groups

Many students like to get all the extra sleep they can in the morning, but Streator High School's Emma Harris gets out of bed earlier than most. Practically every morning of the week, she presides over group meetings before classes.

And if Harris joins a group, there's a good chance she'll end up leading it.

At the school, the senior is president of five of the dozen organizations to which she belongs. She heads Key Club, Operation Snowball, the yearbook, student council and the senior executive council.

Harris took the lead on arranging a recent fundraiser for a scholarship and dance in honor of Hunter Wolfe, an SHS student who died in a work accident.

One of the Key Club activities is a homeless "sleep out," where members stay for the night outside in the school's courtyard, raising $2,000 for the Streator homeless shelter. The event was to give students an idea of what it's like to be homeless.

"Our adviser made us soup, but we could only have it once during the night. Everyone had to give up their phones. We do this in October when it's cold, but not unbearable," said Emma, the daughter of Doug and Kathy Harris.

The Key Club also has rung the bell for the Salvation Army and made fleece blankets for a children's hospital.

Operation Snowball encourages students to lead alcohol- and drug-free lifestyles.

"It's named that way for the snowball effect. The effect gets bigger and bigger," she said.

Among the other organizations to which she belongs is Peer Mediators.

"This is for upperclassmen in good standing who talk to underclassmen who have struggled, maybe getting in fights or not going to school. When two kids want to get into a fight, we pull them into the conference room to try to have them verbally solve it," Emma said. "It's often 'he said this, she said this.' It's social media and texting 100 percent."

She also takes part in Project Unify, where regular education students work closely with those in special education.

Emma is involved in sports — soccer, volleyball and track.

Her dad, Doug, a math teacher, coaches track, where she does discus and shot put.

"My dad pushes me hard. He picks on me a little harder than any other student," Emma said, smiling. "He said, 'I can do that because you're my kid.'"

Emma has been playing goalie since she was 6.

"I started at the Y," Emma said. "For whatever reason, it clicked for me. I love the intensity of soccer."

She said when the other team scores, she blames herself.

"In some ways, it's the goalie who gets the heat," Emma said.

But her coach tells her that the soccer ball had to get past 10 other girls before it reached her.

After this school year, Emma plans to attend MacMurray College, a small school in Jacksonville, Ill., where she plans to play soccer.

Her brother, Dolan Harris, attends North Central College in the Chicago suburbs, where he runs cross country. But don't expect Emma to follow Dolan's path in sports. She dislikes running. As a goalie, she doesn't do as much of it as her teammates.

Emma said she chose MacMurray because it has a good program for special education. She'll have $21,000 of her $38,000 annual cost paid for with academic scholarships.

She said Streator High teacher Amy Boyles introduced her to MacMurray. Emma said she contacted the soccer coach to see if the school needed a goalie.

MacMurray and Jacksonville, Emma said, are good places for special education. When she went around town, she saw people using sign language. It's where the Illinois School for the Deaf is.

"I like the community atmosphere there. So many people in that town are deaf and hard of hearing. It's necessary for people to speak sign language there. That'll help me learn sign language," he said.

She hasn't decided where she will work after college, but noted high demand for special education in 49 of the 50 states.

"I have a few options," Emma said. "I wouldn't mind working in Streator. Streator High School has given me some of the best memories and opportunities."

In an email, Boyles, her teacher, called Emma "a good student, a phenomenal student leader, a gifted athlete."

"I could see Emma running a Fortune 500 company or running for public office someday," Boyles said. "In addition to all her activities, she's humble and hard working."

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