TEMPE, AZ (CBS 5) - Jennifer Townsend is doing what she's always wanted to do - teach special education.

"I try really hard to teach them skills they can use in everyday life, but also skills they don't teach in the classroom," said Townsend. "Like how to make new friends and how to interact in our community."

For the past three years, Townsend has used her kindness and compassion to make a difference in the lives of special needs students at Connolly Middle School in Tempe.

One of those students is 11-year-old Otto Draper, who has Down syndrome.

Otto's mother Carol Begay said that the progress her son has made with Townsend this year has been amazing.

"Before, he didn't have any confidence," said Begay. "He would look at other children and notice that something's wrong with him, but now that he's in Ms. Townsend's class, he's seen a completely different side of himself."

Otto's mom is so grateful for what Townsend is doing with her son and the other students that she reached out to CBS 5 to Pay It Forward to the special education teacher.

A news crew followed along recently to surprise Townsend in class and give her $500.

"I just want to tell you that I'm so thankful for everything you do," Begay told Townsend. "I just want to say I love you and I appreciate you from the bottom of my heart. You teach them things I can't. It's very warming to know when he comes here he feels safe."

"We just want to Pay It Forward to you and give you $500," said Begay.

"For me, it's really important that I stand up for them and say these kids deserve an education just as much as all the other kids," said Townsend. "I think they've taught me a lot more than I've taught them because they're just they're so kind."

"I want her to know that she's very, very loved and very special," said Begay.

"This is definitely what I was made to do," said Townsend.

Jason Barry is best known for his Dirty Dining Report which airs Fridays at 6:30 p.m. on CBS 5.  He is also the storyteller behind CBS 5's Pay It Forward which airs every Thursday at 6:30 p.m.
 
 


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Jason Barry is a nine-time Rocky Mountain Emmy Award winner who is best known for his weekly Dirty Dining reports highlighting local restaurants with major health code violations.

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