Rynelle Boyce photographed at her therapy space at the Academy of Special Needs in Maraval. Makeup by Shenelle Escayg, photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

Originally published in Express Woman, June 11, 2017

My name is Rynelle Boyce and I began my journey as an educator in 2011. I am certified in Early Childhood Care and Education, both through the UWI’s certificate programme and their bachelors programme. I am currently pursuing my Masters degree in Inclusion and Special Education. In hindsight, I knew that I always wanted to teach children at the early childhood level, so I set out to find a job within that field.

I have taught in both a Montessori and a primary school, yet I always felt like something was missing.
​I knew that my passion was there, I knew at the age of nineteen that my life’s quest was to become a teacher, but the question was, what kind?

In hopes of not becoming despondent, I tried teaching in different fields. I taught upper primary school students by giving lessons and even secondary school students in my church. Although it was a great, yet tiring experience, I still felt that there was more to be discovered outside of my norm. It was at this moment that the best opportunity came to my doorstep.

I was asked to work at a camp for children with disabilities. Honestly, a disability was a concept I learned about but had never experienced first-hand, and my scope on children and adults with disabilities was very small. In an effort to find my niche however, I said yes, and it changed my life forever.
​This is how I found my home and how my passion grew ten-fold.

Thus far, I have been working within the special education field for three years. I was hired to be the pre-school teacher in 2013 and I was scared beyond words. How do I handle something that I barely know anything about? As I entered the classroom, I took a deep breath and told myself, “You can do it Ryn, just give it a try,” and on my first day, I had a child throw his puzzle at me, two who kept trying to run away and one that just wouldn’t sit still.

At this moment, I knew it would be a long term, if I made it that long. With barely any physical help, I sought books, other teachers and the internet for help and knowledge about the different types of disabilities and strategies for teaching.

​As the weeks went by, my class of five turned into my little family. When I got to know them, look at their behavioural patterns and listen, even though they had limited speech, I grew to love them, and I knew that they loved me too. The weeks soon turned into months and the months then turned into a year and I knew that working with these special, gifted and talented students was exactly where I was meant to be.

There has never been a day when I saw any of these students for their disability. In fact, I opted for my self-proclaimed motto of seeing ability in disability. I would be lying if I said that the sleepless nights, tears, endless planning, new classroom designs and countless victories weren’t worth it.

​I remember the first time I got one of my students to feed himself, at the time he was ten and full of life, regardless of him being low functioning. One of his goals was for him to be able to feed himself on his own. After months of trying, he did it! I made about three laps around the school and told every teacher that came my way.

My heart was overjoyed at the sight of this feat. After this, there came so many more. From first words, to first numbers, counting to ten, accomplishing the ability to use the toilet on their own, to music festivals and art shows. There are just so many to mention. I’ve had so many proud moments in the field and it has only just begun.

​ What pushed me to continue my journey however was the lack of understanding for those who were not given the chance to fight for themselves, most times, individuals with special needs are not faced with the same level of equality or equity in society.

From this perspective, I have vowed as my life’s mission to create a safe, equitable and inclusive environment, one step at a time. I have started a camp as my first stepping stone called Creative Kids Inclusive Camp, which invites children and adults with special needs, and typically developing children in society to participate in a fun and loving environment during the vacation periods. Although this quest is new, it is one of the greatest ways for individuals to grow to love, to accept and to respect all human life, disability or not.

​To me, this is the best job in the world. I’ve never gone a day without laughing, loving or receiving love and the world’s best hugs. I get to be a part of people’s lives in one of the most special ways. Being a special educator has taught me to be mindful, love beyond myself, to laugh more and to see the heart rather than a person’s shortcomings.

I have met the best people, and not to mention, the most courageous parents. To the many parents and caregivers of individuals with special needs, I want to say that I stand with you and your fight to making this world a better place for your children. I implore all teachers to keep pushing your students to being the best they can be, there is no better feeling than watching the ones you love succeed, not to mention the looks on their faces when they do.

The production of the Footsoldiers segment of the Lioness Project series, highlighting the experiences of 12 workers in the disability field, is supported by the Cause an Effect Organisation, the Massy Foundation and A Very Special Disabilities Forum