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Special education teacher going extra mile, building bond with student with disabilities

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ROCKFORD (WREX) — Special Education was the path Jodi Graber always knew she'd go down.

Even as a kid, she always had a love for children.

"When I was a child I played school all of the time. I had a chalkboard up in my bedroom," Graber said.

" I have a brother who has a disability so special education was kind of the route for me to go."

The Freeport native has taken care of kids for 19 years at Donald C. Parker Early Education Center.

Her classroom is anything but calm with kids running around a mile a minute.

However, it's a chaos Ms. Jodi loves because of how interactive she gets to be with her students.

"I enjoy the relationships. You get to be with children in more intimate settings. Smaller groups, one on ones. You really get to know what motivates them so you use that in your teaching everyday," Graber said.

Every day is full of imagination and adventure for Ms. Jodi and her kids.

From a nice pretend meal to playing dress up as firefighters and police officers,

Though the kids eventually leave for home, it doesn't always mean the end of Ms. Jodi's day.

Two or three times a week, she takes a drive from school to the home of Mason Manning.

"We do lots of music, we do lots of book reading and we do lots of crafting and I really enjoy that time with him," Graber said.

Mason is almost five years old, nearly three years longer than doctors expected him to live.

"When he was about a year and 10 months, he drowned in a swimming pool. He has a brain injury and we've kind of been going back and forth with the hospital trying to get him back to feeling better and doing more things," Mason's mom Abby Bauer said.

"When he had the accident, they told us that they didn't know if he'd make it through the night."

Mason suffered an injury to his motor cortex which took away his ability to talk and move on his own.

His family prepares multiple medications for him to take every day. mainly to handle his muscle spasms.

All of the medicine means he spends much of his day asleep, but when he is awake, he still has the energy and the attitude of a young child.

"So Mason has an attitude just like any 4 year old. He'll tell you if he doesn't like something. He talks to us with his eyes and he'll let us know what he likes and what he doesn't like," Bauer said.

Mason has warmed up to Ms. Jodi in the year she has been stopping by, creating the interaction she loves to have.

"Before he used to close his eyes to try to ignore me but I've seen a lot more of him. He's opening his eyes, he's doing what I ask of him more so I can feel that the relationship is building," Bauer said.

The bond Ms. Jodi is building goes beyond just Mason.

She has left a lasting impact on his entire family with the effort she puts in for their son.

"It's beautiful to see her interacting with him. Not a lot of people take the time to sit down to try to get to know children with special needs," Bauer said.

"When you have people like that in your life that are willing to take the time and sit down and learn all about your kid. It's a really beautiful thing."

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Evan Leake

Evan Leake anchors for 13 News Today and 13 News at Noon. Evan grew up in Darien, Illinois, a south-west suburb of Chicago. He came to WREX in 2017 and worked his way to the anchor desk in May of 2019. He coordinates both the Teacher of the Week and Inspiring 815 series for 13 News. You can connect with Evan at or Evan Leake on Facebook.

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