By Alice Gerard
John Paul Szczublewski started life as a premature baby, who experienced a variety of difficulties as a small child. According to his mother, Susan Szczublewski, who teaches eighth grade science at Veronica Connor Middle School, John Paul “was born a couple weeks early. He had fluid in his ears, which gave him speech delays. Twice, he needed the (tympanostomy) tubes (to permit drainage of the middle ear).”
In Huth Road Elementary School, John Paul was placed in a co-taught classroom so that he could get help for areas that caused him difficulty. A co-taught classroom is a classroom with two teachers: an elementary education teacher and a special education teacher. Co-teaching is an educational model that offers children with special education needs the opportunity for inclusion in regular education classes.
“He can’t run and kick at the same time,” Susan said. “He has to stop. That’s what they call motor planning. He got physical therapy and occupational therapy for writing. He would get more time to write because it would take him longer to write. But he worked his way right out of his IEP (individualized education program). He just strove. I think it started when he won the multiplication bee in third grade. That was the first time for a co-taught classroom to win that. I think that gave him the confidence to believe in himself, to realize ‘I can do all these things.’ ”
When John Paul entered Veronica Connor Middle School as a sixth grader, he was placed in honors-level classes.
A member of Scout Troop 510 that meets at Trinity United Methodist Church, 2100 Whitehaven Road, John Paul chose to have his Court of Honor at the church where he did his Eagle Scout project. He was also enrolled in a Wolf Cub Troop when he started second grade. He has now been a member of the Boy Scouts for 10 years.
For John Paul, there were challenges along the way.
To help John Paul with his motor skills, he was first enrolled in swimming lessons and, later, karate. John Paul, 17, is now a second-degree black belt. On March 18, John Paul officially became an Eagle Scout at his Eagle Court of Honor held at St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church, 308 Fillmore St., Buffalo.
Although John Paul enjoyed camping, certain skills did not come easily to him. Susan related that John Paul earned many of his Eagle-required badges at Camp Merz in Mayville.
“Archery was one of them,” she said. “I remember at first it wasn’t the easiest thing for him, but, every day, after all of his merit badge sessions, he would go, and he would practice and practice and practice. By the time he left, he had the score he needed to get his archery badge. He’s that kind of kid. He doesn’t do anything halfway. He perseveres. And then, he’s someone who, when he learns something, he can teach it to others. He does peer mentoring through the National Honor Society. He works with other kids. He gives a lot of his time.”
John Paul said that he chose to dedicate his Eagle Scout project to something that means a great deal to him.
“We’re Ukrainian,” John Paul said. “With everything going on in Ukraine, our church and the League of Ukrainian Catholics (LUC) have done a lot of things for Ukraine. I have helped out with those things, like the fundraisers. I still felt the need to do more. The front of our church has three entryways. People typically enter through the middle way, but there are two side entries. The stairs had weathered over the years. They started to crumble. The railing started to rust. It had been a couple of decades since the last time anyone had actually worked on them. I decided to dedicate my Eagle Scout project to helping to repaint and repave the steps, while also adding some adhesive strips to ensure that, during the wintertime, they don’t become slippery.”
“We have a lot of elderly in our parish, and many of them won’t come during the winter because they are afraid (that they will) slip and fall,” Susan said.
The stairs before renovation.
John Paul Szczublewski and other Boy Scouts at the newly renovated stairs at St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church.
The newly renovated stairs at St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church.
“Also, there were yellow strips at the end that needed to be repainted,” John Paul explained. “Those were there to alert people that they were the end of the steps, but those had completely disappeared.”
“Some of the cement was not on level, so the kids had to scrape until they could get it level again. Then, after they scraped, they had to sand everything and wash,” Susan added.
“Ultimately, the best part of it all was that the repaving and the repainting of the steps in the exterior area helped to represent rebeautifying Ukraine,” John Paul said. “The church was being repaired. It was like removing all of the cracks, at least symbolically. Obviously, I couldn’t do much about the situation (in Ukraine) currently. But I could, at least, symbolically, through our church, which is one of the biggest centers of Ukrainian culture throughout the entire area.”
“I was very proud of him,” Susan said. “He carefully chose his Eagle project to support people in the Ukrainian community here. He makes me proud every day. He’s always been someone who gives from his heart. He’s honest, and he’s kind. He’s suffered his share of bullying and different things over the years, like every kid. But he just always handles it with such positivity. He truly makes me proud of him every day. I thank God for him every day. Just his dedication.”
John Paul explained how he was able to maintain high grades, while being involved in Scouting, theater, and karate.
“I think that, honestly, the main thing is just finding the correct balance with everything, like, obviously, schoolwork is the main priority. Everything else just follows suit,” he said. “Usually, with the Spotlighters and the musicals, I don’t have many restrictions that I necessarily put in place, because it’s right after school anyways. Other things, like Boy Scouts, karate, all those different aspects, I just have to determine when I can go to those places. For example, like with Boy Scouts, there were some periods that I would go regularly, and there were spans of several months when it would be just sporadic appearances. In the end, you just gotta make it work, just gotta find that balance.”
When asked what makes him happiest, John Paul said, “I think what ultimately makes me happiest in life is that I am talented in many different things, and I get to express all those different talents. Some of them may have to be put on hold during specific times, but all those things still remain constant in my life. It’s all these various talents make the homework load feel less since there’s other activities that you knew you’d be able to do if you got your homework done.”
And for kids who have learning issues or other difficulties, John Paul has a message: “I would just like to say that it’s not necessarily over; that everybody has a chance to do greatness, regardless of the adversity that they have to overcome. They just need the correct mindset. They need that mindset to where it’s like they know they can accomplish it if they put their best efforts, rather than seeing it as too difficult to accomplish, so why try?”
John Paul will finish his education at Grand Island High School as one of the school’s top 10 graduates.
“I’m planning on going into engineering, particularly related to physics,” he said. “It will either be at SUNY at Buffalo or at the Rochester Institute of Technology. I have pretty good financial aid packages from both schools. It’s just determining which campus has the better feel to it. There will be accepted student open house meetings at the beginning of April for both schools. I’ll be able to meet other students, meet the professors, get a more in-depth look at each campus in order to make the final decision.”
John Paul Szczublewski and his mother, Susan Szczublewski. (Photo by Alice Gerard).