Courage To Come Back: Once bullied by her teachers, Youth award recipient now works to bring inclusion into the classroom

She was born with a rare speech disorder that saw her bullied by classmates and teachers. Now an educator herself, she works to bring inclusion into the classroom. 

Our series of Courage To Come Back profiles continues with a look at Samantha Sewell of Vernon, the recipient of the award in the Youth category.

Samantha was born with a condition called Apraxia of Speech.

“The easiest way to explain it is that the pathway between my brain and my mouth doesn’t really exist,” she said.

Her parents were told she would never be able to communicate like everyone else. She attended speech therapy from the age of three until she was well into high school. 

“So, I had to learn how to speak from sight. I had to learn the alphabet by sight.”

Growing up in a time before tablet computers, Samantha had to walk around with a binder full of pictures she would point at to communicate.

She often became withdrawn and depressed, unable to participate in classroom discussions or even basic schoolyard chit-chat.

“The most frustrating thing was when people would ask nonstop, ‘What?’ And they would say it like two or three times. And then they would just be like, ‘Oh, whatever.’ Like it’s fine. And I’d be so frustrated because I wanted to say something, but they did not get that.”

And, of course, being different made her a target.

“I got really, really bullied by not just children, but also teachers,” she said. “It made it really hard to succeed in school even as far back as, like, grade three.”

Samantha eventually drew inspiration from the pageant world, sharing her story with others. While still in high school, she started the “Be someone’s hero, not a bystander” movement.

“There are going to be bullies forever. It’s just something that is unfortunate, but there is always going to be bullies,” she said. “But we don’t have to be bystanders. We can teach people what bullying truly is and how to stand up to bullying.”

Recently, Samantha purchased a house and renovated it into Raising Stars Preschool — an inclusive environment where children of all abilities are welcome.

Her message to them is simple, yet effective.

“You can just be kind to somebody, because you never really know what somebody is going through,” she said. “I believe that we’re all role models in a sense.”

Samantha says she is honoured to receive a Courage To Come Back award as it recognizes not only where she’s been but where she’s going.

“I think it’s an award not just for me, but [for] every single person out there with Apraxia and with a communication or any type of invisible disability. We can be recognized and we can persevere. I may have Apraxia my whole life, but it doesn’t have me and I can keep going forever and make a difference. It’s just unbelievable.”

CityNews is a proud sponsor of the 2024 Coast Mental Health Courage To Come Back awards, which are being handed out Thursday, May 23rd at the Vancouver Convention Centre.