Sarah Chapman, Founder and CEO, Operation Diversity
I’m Sarah Chapman and the proud Founder and CEO of Operation Diversity! I left school with no qualifications after sitting in my exams sobbing with my head in my hands. My experience in education broke me and left me with no confidence or self-esteem. I didn’t know I was dyslexic then. Instead I wrongly believed that I was stupid. I hated my life and didn’t think I had what it takes to be successful. Much of my time in school was torture, spent in the corridor, on suspension, or in the isolation room with my teacher’s harsh words echoing through my mind, “YOU will NEVER amount to ANYTHING!” I believed them. I was at times out of control, rebellious, bitter and generally just very angry inside. Other times, I would opt to act as the class clown to hide my difficulties. Sadly, and regrettably now, I realise that I had given up on myself. I left school feeling worthless with nothing to show for my time there but a lifetime of frustration.
10 years later after a lot of soul searching, I dug deep and returned to education to try again. I wanted to turn my life around for my family and was fiercely determined to make a difference in this world. I sought out and grabbed every opportunity that came my way with both hands, I took several entry level courses back to back and often alongside each other. I spent a lot of my free time volunteering and gaining experience supporting children with learning difficulties. Eventually, I made it to college to redo my GCSEs and to complete an Access to Higher Education Teaching Diploma alongside it to gain access to university. It was at university in my first year that I was formally ‘identified’ as dyslexic with Irlen Syndrome. There was suddenly a reason that I found everything so challenging and this empowered me so much. There was no stopping me! I studied Education Studies with Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND), developing my knowledge in the fields of Dyslexia and other Specific Learning Differences (SpLDs) as well as in inclusion, equality and the legal aspects of SEN support. I didn’t want anyone to ever feel how I did growing up, and so my mission began with Operation Diversity. The heart and soul of our business is to ensure that children and adults whose brains are ‘wired differently’ are not disadvantaged or disempowered.
I had never thought for a second that I would be able to go to university, but this “failure” not only made it there, but I left with a First-Class Honours degree, a good reputation, and additional qualifications too. Through my work I have won 5 prestigious awards including, The East Midlands Adult Learner’s Week Award (2012), The University of Derby’s Volunteer of the Year Award (2014) & Equality and Diversity Award (2014). In September 2014, I was extremely proud to win the ‘Positive Role Model for Disability’ category at the UKs largest National Diversity Awards after being shortlisted from 21,000 nominations.
Most recently I was announced as the winner of Derby and Derbyshire’s Inspirational Woman of the Year (2015) in the Community, Voluntary and Charity sector and ‘Overall Inspirational Woman’ across all categories for my relentless dedication to my studies and the work I have done to improve the learning and life experiences of thousands of dyslexic children and their families throughout the UK. I am sharing this with you so you know that I do understand. I have fought hard to rebuild my confidence and self-esteem, fought hard to overcome barriers that have tested me time and time again, and fought hard to become the person I am today. I have made it my mission to use these experiences, my knowledge and passion to give you and your children the right tools, knowledge and inspiration to reach their full potential. The Operation Diversity Academy is an amazing place to be and I am extremely proud of the positive impact that we have on our members each and every day. I hope that you will come and join us and trust that myself and my team will be there to support you and your family every step of the way.