Teacher honored for her work with students with Down syndrome

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+Leanne Woods getting hugsAlmost everyone who knows Preston Hollow Elementary teacher Leanne Woods says she has a gift for teaching students with Down syndrome.

Principal Tom Brandt describes her as a teacher of boundless energy who applies tough love to get her special needs students to grow when other teachers might give up.

“Ms. Woods’ ability to connect with and address each student’s unique talents and specific needs is absolutely incredible,” he said.

Parents echo the sentiment. Celina Abeyta-Barry, whose son is one of Woods’ students, says the veteran special education teacher is “kind and loving yet firm and determined.”

Woods also takes a personal interest in the students and their families. She is known to chaperone students to sporting events or take them to enjoy a swim. All of this helps explain why the Down Syndrome Guild of Dallas recently named Woods its 2015 Educator of the Year.

The Guild extends a variety of services to some 1,500 area families whose children are diagnosed with this most common of congenital conditions. One of every 691 babies is born with Down syndrome, which creates an intense need for more teachers like Woods.

Parent Rheanna Avila praised Woods for creating a classroom environment that encourages independence and pushes each child to reach developmental and educational goals.

“My son was not able to even draw a circle when he first arrived in Ms. Woods’ classroom in the fall of 2014,” Avila said. “Within a few months, he was writing letters and, by the end of the year, he could write his name. She pushes her students to be the best they can be.”

As to her secret for getting the most from her students, Woods said, “I don’t feel sympathy but a resounding passion for their hidden potential. These children are smart and capable,” she said. “I love them. I make my love evident, but I am tough. I have expectations for them and seeing their gifts come to fruition is an amazing honor.” She shares that honor with her two teaching assistants–Keesha Graves and Angela Rogers. “I have been blessed with amazing partners in the classroom. We are a team and have the same expectations and vision for our kids.”

Woods also helps other students and the community to understand Down syndrome. Her efforts have included creating a school team for the Down Syndrome Guild’s annual Buddy Walk and organizing schoolwide events to celebrate World Down Syndrome day. Her devotion to her students has won her the love and acclaim of her students’ parents. As one parent said in her letter of support for Woods, “The biggest reason she deserves this award is simply that she truly loves my son. As a parent, anyone who loves and believes in my son the way she does is outstanding in my book.”

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