NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) – A Newport News teacher is playing a vital role in her own community, helping to shape the next generation of children.
But not only is she doing that, she’s also sharing her unbreakable spirit.
In a classroom full of eager, energetic first graders, Stephanie Williams is a voice of calm. With a quiet command of her classroom, Williams teaches reading, writing and more.
“It’s very rewarding,” said Williams.
She’s also doing it all while in a wheelchair.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not hurting,” Williams said. “All of my muscles, my ligaments, everything is affected, so I hurt all the time.”
Williams was born with ostegenesis imperfecta, a brittle bone disease.
“I’ve had about 500 broken bones,’ Williams said. “I have tried to not let that stop me. I’ve had lots and lots of surgeries, about 50 surgeries, mostly on my legs, so I’m not able to walk, but I do use my chair, I think I’m pretty mobile with it.”
She navigates her classroom with ease, but the journey to a full-time teaching job was not so smooth.
“It took me a while to be able to find a job, to find somewhere where I was accepted in a wheelchair, to be trusted to take care of little humans,” Williams said. “People see you in a wheelchair and they think that there’s some kind of mental disability, and so I was always trying to prove that even though I can’t walk, I still have the mental capacity to function in society.”
Then came a job offer from Newport News Public Schools.
“I got the call and I broke down, I cried,” Williams told 10 on Your Side. “I had waited several years to be able to find somewhere to teach, so it was just a relief.”
She’s been at Sedgefield Elementary since 2014, which is a full-circle moment for this 2009 Warwick High School graduate.
“This is my community, this is where I live,” said Williams. “This is where I’ve always lived, and to be able to have a hand in helping the next generation come up to be productive members of society, I think it’s important and it’s super rewarding.”
Williams also has her doctorate and did her dissertation on the representation of children with disabilities in picture books.
“Just because there’s a kid in a wheelchair doesn’t mean that it’s a good representation of a kid in a wheelchair,” Williams said.
Now, in her classroom, Williams teaches lessons that extend far beyond the school walls.
“We’re all different,” Williams said, “and what that means for us – you know, maybe I’m different because I’m in a wheelchair, or you’re different because anything else going on in your life: your skin color, your family situation, where you live, all of that effects our differences and how we can be the same while we are still different.”
It’s a message that resonates not only with her students, but with anyone who has a disability.
Said Williams: “Anybody can do anything. It doesn’t matter what you look like, it doesn’t matter what you can or cannot do, you can still be successful as long as you work toward what you want to do.”
While her bones may be fragile, she proves every day that her spirit is unbreakable.