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Tarasenko surprises special education class with visit, gifts

Vladimir Tarasenko and wife, Yana, made a surprise visit to the students with special needs at Promise Christian Academy

by Elise Butler / St. Louis Blues

An ordinary lunch hour turned into so much more on Monday for the students at Promise Christian Academy.

At the motivation of teacher Brittany Hartloge, the students started up the power-play dance, followed by a Let's Go Blues cheer. 

"Maybe if we do it loud enough, somebody will hear it and maybe they'll come see us!" she encouraged.

But the outcome was even bigger than the kids imagined as, mid-cheer, in walked Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko. 

Promise Christian Academy is a small school in Town & Country that utilizes individually-designed academics and therapies for students with special needs. The Tarasenkos first learned of the school through Hartloge, a friend of the couple's and Promise's Lead Classroom Teacher of the Prep Program.

Their first visit to the students took place last season. After attending a Blues game together and hearing more about what Hartloge did for her students, Yana was inspired. She talked to Vladimir that night and they set up a visit to the school for December.

The couple were eager to return again this year. They settled on Monday, an off-day for the team, and prepared a special surprise for the students. In addition to autograph cards, each student received a signed hat from Tarasenko's signature collection with Gongshow Gear.

"I think it's exceptional, because I think this population of people gets overlooked, and they are an exceptional group of people and I think they deserve the same things as everybody else and the same opportunities," Hartloge said. "The fact that [the Tarasenkos] would want to take time out of their day - after he flew all night, probably got little-to-no sleep after the game yesterday - and came and is investing in their lives and bringing them gifts and wanting to make them feel special, I mean it's absolutely unbelievable."

What was originally scheduled as a one-hour visit took closer to two as Vladimir and Yana took the time to meet each student individually before handing out the gifts and gathering for a group photo.

"It's been amazing... It means a lot for us to see when they get excited, get smiling, laughing," Tarasenko said. "We enjoy our time here."

A young student named Evie was the recipient of an extra gift from Tarasenko - a signed jersey. Evie and her classmates frequently talk about hockey at school and Hartloge even has a corner of her classroom dedicated to the Blues under the signage #SquadGoals. Evie proudly wore her new Tarasenko jersey and hat around Promise for the entirety of the visit.

"It's lifechanging for these kids because they may not otherwise get an opportunity like this," Hartloge said. "But they love hockey, they love the Blues. They get to watch [Tarasenko] on TV and in real life he's a real person who's funny and silly and so personable and charitable and philanthropic. And to have both of them come and spend the afternoon with our students means everything."

But the visits with the students are rewarding for Tarasenko and his family, too.

"If you can make them smile, it's really priceless," he said.

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