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Special education teacher helping non verbal kids communicate

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LOVES PARK (WREX) — The winter weather of the midwest is something Tabitha Smith had to get used to when she moved to the stateline.

She came to Rockford four years ago from Phoenix, Arizona.

The Arizona State grad always knew she wanted to work with kids but didn't exactly know how she wanted to work with them.

That is until she started looking at graduate school programs.

"A dual certification program came up with special ed and gen ed and I was thrown into a special ed classroom and never looked back," Smith said.

Mrs. Smith has been with the Harlem School District since moving here and is currently a special education teacher at Loves Park Elementary School.

She has a group of nine students she works with on a daily basis.

Many of her students have individual paraprofessionals with them so she does get help to give the kids the best education possible.

"I couldn't do my job without them. They run small groups, they work one-on-one with students, daily living skills like grooming and bathrooming," Smith said

"I couldn't do it just by myself so I'm glad I have a good team."

One of the kids in Mrs. Smith's class is 11-year-old Hayden.

Hayden has Down Sydrome and is non verbal.

He has spent the last two years with Mrs. Smith and she has helped him progress a lot in his communication.

"I just had a conference with her last week and she showed me some of his writing which Hayden has always hated. He was actually drawing triangles and circles and the H to his name," Hayden's mom Lori Romero said.

"She is definitely working on not limiting him because who knows how far he can go."

Romero nominated Mrs. Smith for Teacher of the Week because she sees her as an "excellent example of the hard work and dedication that a teacher puts in."

It means a lot for Romero to have someone she completely trusts with her child.

"Mrs. Smith is such an amazing individual that makes a parent feel at ease," Romero said.

"Hayden definitely loves school. He loves Mrs. Smith. When I take him to school, he runs to her over me. He'll leave me to run to her. He always has a smile on his face when he sees her."

Teacher of the Week is a big honor for Mrs. Smith who feels life skills and special education teachers don't always get the recognition they deserve.

"You've got such a small group of kids that you see all the time and they can't necessarily speak for themselves either whether you have a good relationship with them or not. They don't have the way to communicate their wants and needs," Smith said.

"It's nice when somebody else sees the hard work that you have put in with the kids and everything everyday."

For Mrs. Smith, it's all about making her students successful and she loves it when everything clicks for them, regardless of how long it takes.

"I just like coming in and seeing their smiling faces and the progress they make whether it takes them a week to get it or a day to get it or a month to get it. Eventually, they get it and it's just an amazing moment," Smith said.

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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 eleake@wrex.com or Evan Leake on Facebook.

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