During studies toward her Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education, Richea Deveaux noticed that students with disabilities were usually overlooked. She felt the need to learn more about educating herself and chose to pursue special education studies for her master’s degree to expand her horizons about the different methods of teaching students with disabilities.
“In pursuing a master’s degree in special education, it will allow me to inspire students that learn differently,” said Deveaux, 23, a student at Lynn University who is expected to graduate in December.
Her hope is that the students she impacts would then see their disability as an obstacle they can overcome.
“My long-term goal is to be an educator who impacts the lives of my fellow students and one day, hopefully, own a school that would assist students with special needs to become better students. Students who would pursue their passions despite their disabilities,” she said.
Her specific target would be students on the autism spectrum disorder.
“I chose this area because there is a wide range of research on autism spectrum disorders. I wanted to learn about the different strategies to teach students with autism. I also wanted to learn about the various communication tools for students with autism that are non-verbal,” said Deveaux.
Earning a master’s degree in special education she said would allow her to become a teacher for every student, instead of a selected group of students.
“I believe that my role as an educator will be impactful because I would benefit from furthering my education. I will have the opportunity to educate the next generation of doctors, lawyers, nurses and other great leaders,” said the “pint-sized” Deveaux who stands a mere four feet, 11 inches.
“In this profession, I will have a chance to fulfill my passion which is to inspire and motivate the youth. I want to impact students positively, so that my students will be able to say, ‘Here is the greatest teacher; she inspired me to achieve my goals.’ I would have the greatest opportunity to teach children to persevere despite all difficulties. It is my desire to return to make a difference in the lives of my students.”
She continued, “Many years ago, I saw a powerful quote that caused me to be more resolved in my duty to ensure that whenever I would be called upon to make my contribution to education, I would remember that, ‘In 100 years, it will not matter the type of house that I lived in, type of car I drove, how much money that I have in the bank, but the world would be a better place because I was important in the life of a child.’ I believe that my role as an educator will be impactful.”
Deveaux, who was diagnosed with scoliosis while in high school and who said she was “bullied” because her peers simply did not understand, said she found having scoliosis was an “obstacle” – but that it did not play a part in her decision to pursue a special education degree.
“Students did not understand my condition and only saw a student in a brace. Therefore, I had some students who made fun of how I had to walk and talked about me. At the time, it was extremely painful, and I am grateful to my parents [Pamela and Ricardo Deveaux] and a few friends in high school who continued to encourage me through everything. I believe this gave me greater inner strength and the determination to be successful as a student and prove to them that I was just as good or better.”
Deveaux said focusing on her goals and future helped her ignore the negativity.
“I believe that my graduation to receive the Grit and Grace Award was an indication that I was able to focus on my strength and goal and was able to be seen as a student of value.”
Deveaux was diagnosed with scoliosis at age 10. Her spine curvature was discovered at an annual physical. Afterward, she was recommended to an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Valentine Grimes II.
She wore a body brace from grades eight through 12. And was required to wear the back brace for 23 hours in the beginning stages with a one-hour break from the back brace most days. She had to change her brace three times during the four-year period, due to growth spurts. After her final visit to the doctor in her senior year, she was able to start the weaning process and did not have to sleep in her back brace anymore. A few months later, the back brace was removed permanently.
In order to strengthen her back, she was required to do physical therapy sessions.
The only hindrance she encountered, she said, was participation in some physical activities.
“At the beginning of this journey, I needed assistance unlatching the back brace to use the restroom. It was difficult going from being independent to relying on others for help. Wearing the back brace made my teacher unsure whether I was allowed to participate in a physical education class. Then, I informed my physical education teacher that I could participate in the class without my back brace. However, I could not participate in the high jump and discus sporting events. In the beginning stages of wearing the back brace, walking was difficult. Walking in the back brace was painful, and it caused me to appear stiff. Wearing the back brace at night made sleeping uncomfortable, due to the tightness of the brace.”
She was out of the brace by the time she enrolled at university, but was advised to not lift heavy backpacks.
Deveaux can now wear clothes that fit, increase her walking speed and swim more.
She chose to pursue her undergraduate degree at Grand Canyon University (GCU) because of its multicultural environment, which she said is what she was looking for in a classroom setting at university.
“With such academic, cultural and social experiences, this would definitely equip me for success and assist me in being a well-rounded individual and give me an opportunity to inspire students that learn differently. Then, these students would see their disability as an obstacle they could overcome. They would pursue their passions despite their disabilities,” she said.
Education is important to Deveaux.
“Education means having the ability to address items, understand concepts, improving your ability to address a wide range of problem-solving skills. Education also assists one in making informed decisions and being able to think critically. That is why during my undergraduate studies, I worked hard to accomplish the goals which I set for myself at Grand Canyon University (GCU).”
Deveaux graduated GCU with a cumulative grade point average of 3.96.
Her advice to graduating seniors is that you must plan ahead.
“Be persistent. Have attainable goals. Have a positive mindset. Understand your purpose and make yourself marketable to college recruiters by studying hard and passing your Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE), taking the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) and identifying a college that would suit you.”
By the end of her 11th-grade year, Deveaux had been accepted into five universities and narrowed her selection to a school that she felt would best assist her growth as a student and challenge her academically.