Breaking News
More () »

St. Louis area teacher with autoimmune disorder hopes to inspire students to be themselves

"I see myself in all of my students because I was them. I want them to dream big and know that it is possible because it happened for me."

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — Children around the St. Louis area are back in school and most of them are learning the basics like reading, writing and arithmetic. 

But some students in the Pattonville School District are also learning to appreciate who they are.

“Even as a child and a lot of my teachers who are still her will tell you I was very authentic and I was me and I was OK with that,” said Bridgeway Elementary School teacher Isabel DiSalvo.

This is DiSalvo’s first year of teaching. Teaching is what she has wanted to do since she was a little girl.

“This has been my dream job,” she told 5 On Your Side.

But there were potholes along the road to making her dream a reality. The biggest being a condition she suffers from.

“I was diagnosed with alopecia areata two weeks into my freshman year of high school,” she said. “When I was first diagnosed it was really hard.”

The condition causes hair loss and has left the first-year teacher bald.

“I do get stares when I go out,” she said.

DiSalvo decided a long time ago not to hide her head.

“This is the hand I was dealt and what am I going to do with it? Went in the first day of my junior year without a wig,” she said.

She doesn’t wear a wig in class and DiSalvo’s students do ask her questions.

“They do say the darnedest things. But it just makes you laugh. I don’t mind. But usually once I explain it, they’re like OK and they are on to the next thing,” she said.

DiSalvo will teach her class plenty of things that are on the curriculum. But she may be teaching a life lesson by just standing before them. DiSalvo’s presence shows them they can overcome personal obstacles.

“I see myself in all of my students because I was them. I want them to dream big and know that it is possible because it happened for me,” she said.

The message she wants to convey to her students is that it is OK to be different.

“It’s not easy to be who you are all the time, especially when it doesn’t fit the mold,” she explained.

She is making it a point to empower her students with self-esteem.

“I can impact even one child to fully accept themselves, then maybe all of the pain I felt, all of the heartache was worth it,” she said.

DiSalvo attended school at Bridgeway and now teaches in her old first grade classroom.

September is National Alopecia Awareness Month. If you want to learn more about the condition, click here.

Before You Leave, Check This Out