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Part of Western Governors University

October 9, 2018

Student Success , Teaching & Education

Louisiana teacher turns hardship into leadership.

While his classmates posed for prom pictures in their parents’ living rooms, Joshua O’Nishea took a sponge bath at McDonald’s to prepare for his prom night.

There weren’t parents at home for him, since he was abandoned at 16 and left in a makeshift house his father’s family built out of an old train cart.

But this was the beginning of his up-and-coming story, not his down-and-out story...

“I realized that I wanted to do anything and everything that I could to ensure that my family did not have to face these types of problems,” said Joshua, a high school chemistry teacher in Bossier City, Louisiana and graduate of Western Governors University’s M.S. Educational Leadership program“And WGU has been just that—the opportunity for me to become a leader from very little.”

Joshua instinctively knew that education would someday lead him out of his hardship. From the spring semester of Joshua’s sophomore year, he lived on that hope. He found ways to survive by getting friends to take him to fast food restaurants to eat and wash off in the restrooms. And he focused on his extra-curricular activities, which kept him motivated to go to school.

“I had to wake up every morning and make the decision to go to school and make something out of myself, because I didn't have a parental guide to support me,” said Joshua.

Now he uses his personal story to teach fortitude and determination to his own students. That’s because while his own dark days are far behind him now, the challenges Louisiana’s K-12 students face really hit home for Joshua in his role as an educator. He knows that many other students there experience hardships similar to those he suffered when he was in high school.

Children living in poverty is a growing epidemic in Louisiana. The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2018 Kids Count report, which annually ranks states on overall child well-being, ranks Louisiana last in the country for children’s economic well-being. Considering other factors such as education, health, family, and community, Louisiana is the lowest ranked state in the country for children just behind New Mexico.

With his graduate degree in educational leadership, though, Joshua is planning to help turn that around as a leader within the educational community of Bossier Parish, Louisiana. And with his wife and four children, he’s looking forward to being the dad taking pictures on his kids’ prom nights.

"I tell my students this detailed story at the end of every semester, so they know that it is not what you are given, but what you can do that truly defines your success."

"I tell them to make the most out of everything, and never give up on their dreams—regardless of how tough it is," Joshua says.

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