JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- This week's Teacher of the Week is the band director at Yulee Middle School.
He's invited some new students into his classroom and it's changing their lives.
Jacob Smith's parents never thought they'd see the day their son would play an instrument.
"I'm just so proud, I can't stop smiling!" says his mother, Lori Smith.
Jacob was born with down syndrome and struggles with aggressive behavior, but he isn't just learning to play any ol' stationary drum: he's performing with the marching band. His parents say it's because of one special person. "Mr. Shepard came up to us and said, 'I want you to think about this. I want him in the marching band and what do we need to do to make this happen?' and Mark and I were like, 'He's serious!'" laughs Lori.
Band director, Andy Shepard, says he's wanted Jacob, and others like him, to be a part of Yulee's music program for a long time. "For years I've wanted to work with our special needs students, and the timing just never worked out. But I attended a class in January learning how to work with them, and it all worked out to where I could work with the students," Shepard says.
Isaac Youmans is also new to the program. He's visually impaired and has cerebral palsy but Isaac knows exactly what to do when Shepard directs him. "He says when it's not time to play, it's not time to play. That's why we gotta wait, until it's time," Isaac says.
Shepard says because each student has different abilities and needs, the class makes special accommodations to help them.
"We're putting them on percussion right now so they learn how to keep good, steady beats, using mentors to help them, whether they're marching down the field or in a formation, putting them in a certain spot where they can be successful on the field," he explains.
He adds one of his favorite things is to see the smiles on the boys' faces.
But the Smiths say Shepard isn't just making a difference in the students' lives. "For Jacob to be able to participate in a group function and let it be band and let him excel and feel a part of something is what every parent wants their child to be able to do."
Jacob's father, Mark Smith, agrees. "Now that I see my son up there, it's an awesome feeling. It really is."
Shepard says he hopes to be able get the students to try wind instruments in the future.