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Old Dominion University graduate Jinnifer "Jinni" Smith, who teaches autistic elementary school students for the Southeastern Cooperative Educational Programs (SECEP), was named the 2005 teacher of the year for SECEP's autistic and educational and behavioral intervention programs.

Smith, a graduate of Old Dominion University with a degree in English education and the recipient of certification in special education, also from ODU, has been teaching for five years.

Smith's six students struggle to express their emotions and interact with others, symptoms of autism, a neurological disorder that affects 1 in 250 births nationwide. In her classroom at Churchland Elementary School, progress is measured as much by how well students behave and communicate as their ability to write a paragraph and solve a math problem.

On both fronts, Smith's students are making gains. This year, one of Smith's students is taking all of her classes with the rest of the fourth-graders at Churchland Elementary, a first for SECEP in Portsmouth. Two others travel with a teacher's aide to some of the traditional classes at Churchland. And another student, a perky 11-year-old who enunciates every word, scored the role of a cat in the school's winter recital.

This article was posted on: May 19, 2005

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