If you went to Wildcat football games this past season, you may have seen Julia Bellew cheering on the team and blowing kisses to her friends. Or if you caught the Lake Highlands High School musical in January, you may have seen her strutting her dance moves and singing in the chorus.
Julia loves performing in front of an audience because she doesn’t see herself as someone who has a disability, Down syndrome.
She wants to focus on fine arts when she attends Richland College next year. While she takes a few special education courses, she hopes to audit a few other courses in fine arts.
This will be a significant shift from her super busy schedule during her senior year. It was so busy that she had to give up choir in order to stay in cheerleading and theater.
“The [cheerleading] coach is amazing, and he allowed her just to do whatever she wanted to participate in, and so she cheered on the football field where she loved to blow kisses to the audience while she was cheering,” says Jill Bellew, Julia’s mother.
Besides cheerleading, Julia says her favorite part of senior year was theater. She was part of the chorus in the January production of “Mary Poppins.”
“I love working with friends,” Julia says.
Julia has been fortunate to have a very close group of friends since her days at White Rock Elementary.
“It’s just crazy to me that she’s graduating because we went all the way through,” Jill says. “We really fought for her to be in the classroom and not in special ed because she bonded with a lot of those kids. What really surprised us when she hit junior high and high school, is that she made a lot of friends that didn’t go to White Rock. We thought it would be harder for her to make friends in that way, but she makes friends wherever she goes.”
Her independence, ability to befriend any schoolmate and active part in extracurriculars turned Julia into a social butterfly.
“You’d walk the halls, and everybody would greet her. I think that’s a testament to her because she just puts herself out there. You can really learn a lot from her,” Jill says.
Her character has been a great example for her 14-year-old sister, who is a freshman at LHHS. Sarah enjoys going to school with her big sister because she’s so well-known around campus.
“Sarah thinks this is the greatest thing because she says, ‘Everybody knows who I am. Oh, there’s Julia’s sister.’ Sometimes, she’ll have teachers that call her Julia, and she’s not resentful. Julia is such a positive influence in people’s lives, that she sees it as a real benefit.”
Some academics have been a hardship for Julia due to her Down syndrome, but she stayed independent. Even when she had an aide as she transitioned to Lake Highlands Junior High, she didn’t understand why some random person was following her around.
One of her greatest hardships has been the transition to online classes and the loss of senior activities like Senior Tea and graduation due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“She loves going to school, she loves seeing her friends, so that’s been hard,” Jill says.
Julia says that her new favorite part of her senior year has been the gifts she’s received by different neighbors as part of the “Adopt A Senior” program. Julia and her family look forward to the postponed senior graduation and her attending Richland in the fall.
“Everyone has always accepted her and has been great,” Jill says. “She wants to be a part, just like any other teenager.”