Kelly Elementary School student overcomes adversity to inspire others

Photo Courtesy of WOSD
Fifth-grader Saniyah Williams, second from left, is recognized at the Dec. 18 Board of Education meeting by, from left, Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Rutzky, Kelly Principal Joanne Pollara and BOE member Sandra Mordecai.

WEST ORANGE, NJ — Saniyah Williams is a fifth-grade student at Kelly School who loves math and loves to run 5K races with her Girls on the Run group. Her favorite running shoes are turquoise and pink. She also loves gym classes, recess and jumping rope. The only difference between Saniyah and her fellow students is that she is blind.

Saniyah has retinal detachment, congenital cataracts, pupillary defect, vitreous hemorrhage and hypotony, most likely the result of trauma. Saniyah came to her family as a foster child in December 2011. DYFS records were not the best and it was thought that shaken baby syndrome may have caused the hemorrhage and retinal detachment.

At that time, she had limited vision in her left eye and poor vision in the right. Her vision deteriorated quickly and her biological mother would not consent to surgery. When her parental rights were terminated in 2014, Saniyah began to undergo several surgeries that were not very successful due to scar tissue. According to her foster mom, Robbin Jordan, she lost her sight completely about a year and a half ago.

Despite the monumental challenges faced at such a young age, Saniyah has not lost her drive to achieve. What makes Saniyah exceptional is that no matter what, she believes that everyone, including herself, should do whatever it takes to reach a goal.

When Saniyah began learning Braille in third grade, it was difficult to understand at first. Her school aide, Ms. Kherri, also began learning Braille to help her. Saniyah has now surpassed Kherri in her skills and enjoys reading Braille and feeling the textures.

When the Girls on the Run program began at Kelly School, Saniyah thought she would enjoy it. Girls on the Run is a program designed for young girls to build confidence and character while training for a 5K. Her mom, also a runner, excitedly signed her up.

“My mom was happy when I started to run because my mom and sister sometimes run together and now we all can,” Saniyah said. Her sister, Deianni Galloway, is a senior at Brown University. She doesn’t like running, but she is very close to Saniyah and wanted to support her. Her mom is also a runner and is the recipient of several medals. Saniyah considers them to be her inspiration.

Saniyah trains with Girls on the Run at Kelly Elementary School. They run often and sometimes stop for water breaks, but Saniyah always likes to keep going. She prefers using a belt attachment and running with her teacher, Ms. Navarro, but also runs with a coach holding her elbow.

“I like to feel free,” she said. “The best thing I can tell people who want to achieve a goal is they must have patience and the will to never give up.”

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