Advocate for the Disabled Delivers Message to Windsor Staff
On the day before classes start for students, Windsor staff received a message that could impact those young minds for years to come.
Teena Fitzroy, an advocate for disabled students for 30 years, shared her story as a person with Cerebral Palsy who became the first student with a disability to attend Geneseo public schools in 1957. This was after spending 10 months when she was five years old in an institution she was determined to leave. She spent her time there being unruly and mischievious before being kicked out.
“I learned being persistent, stubborn and a brat could get me what I want,” joked Fitzroy.
However the 12 years of bullying, unsupportive teachers and a lack of support she experienced in public school were no laughing matter. She was called “stupid”, had no friends, and teachers she knew didn’t want her on her way to graduating at the bottom of her class.
She says she only had one educator during her time in Geneseo schools who believed in her - a seventh-grade teacher who invited her home to bake cookies.
“I had flour all over the kitchen, there was egg in my hair but my cookies looked the same as hers. That’s all she cared about,” said Fitzroy.
Fitzroy’s message is that some students need to take different paths to success. People with disabilities are people first, ones who happen to have a disability.
“You will not have an autistic student this year,” Fitzroy told Windsor teachers. ”You will have some students who have autism.”
Fitzroy went on to graduate from SUNY Geneseo and work as an advocate for families and children with disabilities with the Advocacy Center in Rochester, NY. She then went to work as a Family Information Specialist at Monroe 1 BOCES. She has three children and six grandchildren.
She told her life story through objects in her trunk. She unpacked a pair of children’s shoes to symbolize what it takes to walk in her shoes. She took out a small baseball bat to represent how her mother went to bat for her to get her into public school and eventually college. Her final item was a bag of rocks to show how hard a road she had to travel. But, she explained how that seventh-grade teacher turned those rocks into pebbles, making that road easier. She urged Windsor teachers to do the same.
“You can be a hero to those students,” said Fitzroy.
Her experience in Geneseo schools recently came full circle when she was inducted into that District’s Hall of Fame.
“I thought about whether I should accept the honor but I said, ‘I want my plaque on that wall,’” said Fitzroy. “I just wish they recognized my disability 50 years ago instead of now.”