Rock Island teacher receives LifeChanger nomination after working with student with Down syndrome

“It brings tears to your eyes.”

ROCK ISLAND, Illinois-- Fred Venable III says he never thought his son would learn to read.

"When somebody tells you that he probably won't read, you kind of accept that," Venable says.

Venable's son, Fred Venable IV, has Down syndrome. Venable says experts told him his son would never be able to read.

But when Fred started working with Elizabeth Wayne two years ago, he started to "bloom."

"He has, academically, just bloomed," the special education teacher says.  "I try to reach every kid from what they enjoy and take them from where they are and move them a little bit further and keep going."

Before meeting Miss Wayne, Fred knew how to hold a pencil, write his own name and remember his personal information, like his address.

"He was relying on other people doing things for him," Venable says. "It's just unbelievable how far he's come. Learning to read, life skills, everything really."

It took a lot of time, patience and hard work learning these new skills.

"I would take him for some very intensive phonics instruction," Wayne says. "And then the para-professional would take him for another reading group. And I know his parents worked on reading with him at night."

But this perseverance started to pay off.

"All of a sudden it was like a light bulb comes on, and he starts to read," Venable recalls. "So I'm doing his homework with him at home. As a parent, you just see it for the first time, it brings tears to your eyes."

Wayne says it's not always easy helping her students progress.

"We'll take five steps forward, ten steps back," she says. "I always had to make sure that I was prepared. I always had to make sure that I knew a different song that he was memorizing so that we could celebrate with a different song whenever he finished his work."

From knowing Fred's favorite song to having sensory pads ready to go, it's the little things that are now getting Wayne so much attention.

Venable nominated her for a LifeChanger Award. This award recognizes teachers and school employees from across the country who go above and beyond for their students.

Friday, Sept. 28, 2018, Principal Kristin Allen presented Wayne with her certificate, recognizing her nomination to be a LifeChanger of the Year.

"That's why I wanted her recognized, because not only did she understand his potential, she understands what motivates him," Vendale says.

Wayne says she's humbled by the award and had to thank the school, her classroom staff and parents for all their hard work. And, of course, Fred also deserves recognition as well.

"Gotta give Freddie a lot of credit, too," Venable says. "I'm proud of him."

Wayne is now in the running to be a LifeChanger of the Year. Those recipients will be chosen next year.