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Life skills teacher helping students with disabilities stay active and grow

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MACHESNEY PARK (WREX) — Traci Rankins is in her 30th year of teaching.

The majority of that time has been spent in Illinois, but she is no stranger to moving around.

"I was born and raised in Minneapolis and then I went to college out in Virginia and then my husband and I moved to the Wisconsin/Illinois area 27 years ago," Rankins said.

Her latest stop is the life skills department at Harlem High School.

For the last 6 years, Mrs. Rankins has worked with kids with special needs.

A passion she found at a young age through the work of her family.

"My parents were always carrying people and I just love working with special ed students. I just want to give them a chance," Rankins said.

Throughout three decades in the classroom, Mrs. Rankins has learned to reach her students on an individual level.

She works to understand each person's strengths and weaknesses to make sure they are getting the most out of their education.

"We want to prepare them for adult living and find what works for them so they can further their lives no matter what they choose to do later after high school," Rankins said.

Mrs. Rankins isn't alone in helping her students grow.

A few of her students have paraprofessionals in class with them, who are equally impacted by her teaching ability.

"I love Traci. She's very good with the children," Harlem High School paraprofessional Amy Scoville said.

"She has come up with a lot of different things for them to do. I've seen great improvement with a lot of kids through the work we do in her room."

Movement is a big factor in Mrs. Rankins teaching style.

It can be challenging at times to keep her students' attention so she tries to mix up her lessons so their minds stay active.

A new activity in her class this semester is a daily yoga session to relax the kids' minds and help them stay focused.

"A lot of their attention spans are pretty short. Some of them have some anxiety issues. I just thought if we could teach them some yoga breathing and stretches, maybe that will help them later and we can we can transfer those skills," Rankins said.

The constant movement is a joint effort between Mrs. Rankins and her paraprofessionals.

There is good collaboration between everyone to give the kids exactly what they need.

"She is very good at listening to paraprofessionals and our suggestions. If we think something needs to change, she's very open to seeing if it works the way we say," Scoville said.

"I love her as a teacher. I'm so glad I'm in her class!"

Mrs. Rankins doesn't put in the hard work for accolades like Teacher of the Week, but being recognized for her efforts means a lot.

"Sometimes teachers go to school and we have a lot going on in our mind with what's going on in the classroom. Making sure all the kids needs are being met," Rankins said.

"When someone outside of these four walls is recognizing what I am doing every single day, it makes me feel really good. It makes me proud to be a teacher and do what I do."

Mrs. Rankins is quite ready to retire.

When she does decide to leave the classroom, she hopes to continue helping the special needs population by going into special needs advocacy.

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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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