Just a stone's throw away from Corridor H, a road which promises to bring a bright future to central West Virginia, lies the classroom of Union Elementary School teacher Sondra Shaw, who offers the same promise to her students.
A elementary school special education teacher, Shaw was honored with the West Virginia Teacher Achievement Award, an award given in memory of Freida J. Riley, the teacher made famous in the movie "Rocket Boys" for inspiring four boys to reach for the stars.
"I was so deeply moved from day one since I saw her application," said Roy Lee Cooke, one of the original "Rocket Boys." "It just jumped into my lap. She, by far, among all the teachers we've had, has it all."
The Inter-Mountain photo by John Wickline
Sondra Shaw, left, accepts congratulations for winning the West Virginia Teacher Achievement Award from West Virginia’s acting First Lady Joanne Tomblin. Shaw, a special education teacher at Union Elementary in Upshur County, has been a teacher for 32 years.
Shaw grew up with a left foot and hand having only two digits each, and the right ones having only one digit each. Still, she doesn't think of herself as having a disability, a message she has conveyed to her students over the past 32 years.
"Throughout my life, I have not allowed my physical condition to become a deterrent, but rather a disguised blessing," Shaw wrote in her biographical information. "Many of (her students) face horrific obstacles at home and at school. I share my story by explaining to them that some of life's situations are difficult, but not impossible to overcome. When teaching my elementary students to write, I hold the pencil with both hands while lovingly explaining that there are multiple ways to accomplish a goal."
Acting First Lady Joanne Tomblin praised Shaw for being a role model for her students and in being relentless in maintaining a positive attitude.
"She continually reassures her students that they will be successful," Tomblin said.
Shaw became teary-eyed at times as she was being lauded by staff and members of the Prodigy Foundation, the sponsor of the Freida J. Riley Award. She said she could not imagine winning the honor, adding that every teacher deserves such recognition.
"I've always known that I wanted to be a teacher," Shaw said. "That's what God put me on this earth for."
Shaw was nominated for the honor by Union Elementary School's principal, Dr. Sara Stankus. She said Shaw empowers her students and finds ways for them to feel confident in learning.
"She believes that learning begins with what her students already know and is able to build on this prior experience in order to help her students feel safe and confident," Stankus said. "A number of highly challenging students who have not found success in any other classrooms have been turned around under Miss Shaw's high expectations, supported with her loving and consistent teaching methods."
Steve and Debbie Warner wrote in support of Shaw's nomination of how grateful they were that their daughter, along with they as parents, had the opportunity to work with Shaw.
"Ms. Shaw never looked at her hands as being disabled or different," they wrote. "She was able to do anything and always could give a high-five and lots of hugs with those hands. She never thought of (the students) has having a disability, but having the ability to learn and be successful in life. Any time you walked into her class, the students were all happy, and you felt a positive vibe."
Shaw said the challenges can be "monumental" at times, but still said that each day is a new day.
She can't imagine doing anything else.
"I love teaching," she said. "It's not going to work. It's coming to school."