When Ashley Ezell, fourth grade teacher at St. Francis Xavier, was 12 years old, she received the diagnosis of being legally blind. An impairment that runs in her family, Stargardt macular degeneration, does not stop Mrs. Ezell from commanding her classroom. Her diagnosis does not define her role in life, and, with the help of her school community and Girl Scout Troop 532, even her blindness is not a limitation. In 2017, after a colleague at her school researched and presented options for goggles that might help Ezell see, the St. Francis Xavier community raised funds to purchase the $2500 goggles for their teacher and colleague. Girl Scout Troop 532 donated $532 from their cookie sales. The IrisVision goggles allow Ezell to see distances and to be able to read along in books in the classroom. Ezell feels genuine gratitude for the way St. Francis Xavier School came to her aid and helped her see. “This community continues to support me in my desire to attend professional developments, the numerous outside-of-the-box projects and activities I plan, the degree I received, and the countless hours of fellowship and service I have given back,” said Ezell.
In her 7th year of teaching at St. Francis Xavier Catholic School, Mrs. Ezell says the way she has been embraced is indicative of the mindset and actions the community has been working toward. The school community of St. Francis Xavier had worked hard to be intentional about inclusiveness. Helping to provide equipment for those with disabilities is wonderful, but it’s all about the mindset, the attitude, and understanding that every single individual contributes to a community so should be valued and welcomed.
Ezell believes that her disability itself is less of a limitation than the people who think her impairment makes her less capable. “As a teacher, my visual impairment can sometimes slow me down in catching my own typos in directions, reading passages, and being able to assist a student with ease. With all this being said, my visual impairment requires me to be very organized with my lessons, try to plan ahead for any potential problems, and have all my necessary tools that will help me assist my students during the lesson.” Her Type-A personality helps her stay ahead, too. Continuing to be successful as a teacher at St. Francis impacts Mrs. Ezell’s students each year. “The SFX community has fueled my passion for Catholic education by pushing me to be the greatest teacher I can be for my students and families.”
Mrs. Ezell has become a passionate advocate for students with disabilities to be welcomed, appropriately accommodated, and educated at Catholic schools. As a board member of The Matthew 19:14 Project, an organization that supports teacher training and resources for Catholic schools that support students with disabilities, Ashley feels an urgency to spread the message about the importance of embracing people with disabilities.
Mrs. Ezell believes that her presence at St. Francis is important because she believes in educating students and parents to be unapologetic advocates for themselves and their children. “I have a deeper understanding and show more compassion for families who are going through the education system with a student who has a disability because I have lived through extremely frustrating moments and have also experienced the wonderful teachers who take the time to make accommodations and treat you fairly.” Ezell works every day to be part of the solution, remove barriers, and help Catholic communities live out their full mission. Working in a Jesuit environment under the Cura Personalis model, it only makes sense that Mrs. Ezell both receives love and support from her community and is able to make such a significant and unique impact.