James Sparks: How this Teacher and Coach Prepared for the Future

Home » James Sparks: How this Teacher and Coach Prepared for the Future

James Sparks: How this Teacher and Coach Prepared for the Future

This Ability Works Award Winner achieved his dream of becoming a teacher with help from DRS

James Sparks teaches social studies at River View High School in McDowell County, his alma mater, where he graduated in 2016.

While playing football in high school, James dislocated his knee several times, causing permanent damage. Those injuries pushed him to contact the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS) to help him plan and prepare for his future.

James knew he wanted to be a teacher, but his life had not been easy growing up in Squire. His grandparents raised him because his parents had substance use issues. He was a junior in high school when his grandmother passed away.

Despite those difficulties, James pursued his bachelor’s degree in secondary education from Concord University. He faced another setback when his grandfather passed away as he was starting his student teaching requirement.

However, the additional emotional stress did not stop James from succeeding. He earned his degree in 2021.

According to James, DRS Rehabilitation Counselor Holly Estep was very good at providing him with information and assistance beginning when he was in high school.

James received financial support from DRS to attend college and a laptop and other supplies to help him with school. DRS also helped James with the financial costs of taking the required examinations to become certified as a teacher.

River View High School Principal Frazier McGuire explained that James teaches social studies to students in grades nine through 12. McGuire believes James holds a special place in his heart for the school because he grew up there.

In addition to being a teacher, James assists with coaching the high school and middle school football teams and keeps stats for the girls’ basketball and softball teams.

In his role as a teacher, James admits that he is trying to do his best and is learning daily, especially about how kids behave and react in different situations.

James’s favorite part of working is interacting with his students and the athletes.

According to McGuire, James has a lot of compassion for his students and is a good fit for the school.

While he does not envision ever leaving McDowell County, James is pursuing a master’s degree in athletic coaching and leadership from West Virginia University. He believes furthering his education will help him be a better coach and educator.

Estep feels James’ perseverance enabled him to succeed.

“He’s had so many obstacles in his life with his family, in school with people telling him he’s not going to be able to reach his goals,” said Estep. “He could have stopped, but every single time, he kept going.”

James admits there were times when he didn’t think he would make it through school, but he is proud of the accomplishment.

Estep believes James is kindhearted and caring, and those characteristics lead him to give back to his community.

James believes that a lot of people look down on McDowell County because of the poverty and drugs, but he feels the county has a lot of positive things to offer and those attributes begin with the elementary, middle and high school students. It makes him proud to try to be a positive role model for his students and the athletes with whom he works.

James Sparks was selected as an Ability Works Award Winner in 2022. The annual Ability Works Awards honor one outstanding consumer from each of the agency’s six districts, coinciding each October with National Disability Employment Awareness Month.