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Thanks to Teachers: Debra Woo

Credit: WLOS

At Polk County High School, a small special education class learns about the Americans with Disabilities Act. Teacher Debra Woo has her own real life example of her need for facilities to be A.D.A. compliant.

"She comes with a wheelchair. It's a big one. She's got a trach. She pretty much needs a hospital packed on the back of her chair," Woo said of her now 23-year-old daughter Alicia.

"My daughter, at 6 days old, had a pulmonary hemorrhage, went 90 minutes without adequate oxygen, and she lived. Some very difficult years," Woo recalled.

Alicia was left severely brain damaged. Woo remembered one of her daughter's first therapists, a young woman with an unusual activity.

"Every time she came in, she came in with a shoestring. At the end of it was a bell, and she would take that and dangle it in front of my daughter," she recalled.

Woo said it seemed like a waste of time until, "At that eighth month, my daughter took her little hand and swatted it to hear the bell."

Woo said it was a life changing moment.

"It was in that moment I realized I really didn't know anything about teaching," she said.

Alicia went on to graduate from high school last summer, the same time as her younger brother.

Fueled by the realization she needed more patience and must never give up on anybody, Woo transitioned into special education.

She said the change was not easy, but is worth it.

"The most rewarding is when I can reach the heart of that student and that accomplishment they feel when they go, 'Oh, my gosh. I can do this!" Woo said.

"She has helped me see that I can do better things with my life than I would be doing without the positive mindset she's helped me have," student Brianna Day said of Woo.

Day, who has spent much of her life in foster care, is now applying to colleges thanks to Debra Woo.

"I want them to know I'm not a teacher, just standing there. I'm also a mother and a mother who has lived through this," Woo said.

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