FULLERTON, Calif. — Jessica Greenwald, who is a special education specialist, is driven to be an example to her students that disabilities are not weakness and that dreams can be achieved when the road to success is not always smooth.

“Even with a disability, you are capable of doing whatever you put your mind to. Your disability shouldn’t stop you,” said Greenwald.


What You Need To Know

  • Jessica Greenwald is a teacher at Orangethorpe Elementary School in Fullerton
  • Greenwald was a competitive swimmer who participated in the 2016 U.S. Paralympic Team trials
  • Greenwald and her campus are celebrating the end of the school year and the upcoming 2021 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games
  • The teacher is sharing her personal story about some of the barriers she faced to swim competitively.

The 27-year-old educator is teaching fourth and fifth graders at Orangethorpe Elementary School in Fullerton — a profession that Greenwald said people have told her would not be possible.

“They handed me a list of reasons why. I thought oh my goodness what am I going to do?” she said.

Greenwald was born with cerebral palsy, which is a disorder that affects her movements and posture. Despite being told she would not be able to play sports when she was younger, Greenwald ended up trying out and making it to her high school’s novice swim team. She even participated in the 2016 U.S. Paralympic Team trials in Charlotte, North Carolina for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“For me, the water is a free place. There is no walker. There is no scooter. So I’m completely free to do whatever it is that I want to do,” said Greenwald.

The teacher did not move on from the trials, but she considers her journey a story worth sharing. She is teaching a lesson on the importance of determination and perseverance in honor of the upcoming Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games set for July.

“I went to some of my friends that I swam with in 2016 when I went to trials and I said, ‘hey, would you be willing to help us out?’ So they made videos and the kids asked questions, and the videos are all on the PowerPoint, and they’re being shown around the school,” she said.

Fourth grader Jade Serratos is in Greenwald’s class. She enjoyed hearing from Jessica’s former teammate Cortney Truitt who joined the class virtually.

“I feel happy that I’m her student. I’m grateful,” said 10-year-old Jade Serratos.

Inspired by Greenwald’s story, the entire campus is celebrating Olympians and Paralympians through activities inside and outside of their classrooms.

“I hope that one day, they can look back at this and realize that there are people out there that are rooting for them and that we all want them to succeed no matter what their struggle is,” said Greenwald.

She does not know if competing again will be in her future, but she said she is happy at Orangethorpe Elementary School teaching students that everyone has the potential to be a winner.