MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — This week’s Excellent Educator teaches her students one of the most basic skills: how to speak.

Lisa Giebink has worked at Centennial Early Childhood Special Education Program in Circle Pines for 21 years.

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Often hopeless, parents come to Giebink, a speech pathologist, because their babies aren’t making sounds or their toddlers struggle to form words. But Giebink is helping parents communicate with their kids for the first time.

“I work in the homes of families to help their kids learn to eat and learn to talk,” Giebink said.

Some of her students have been diagnosed with medical diagnoses, like down syndrome or cleft palate, but many of the kids are just late to talk.

Betty, 2, has a motor speech disorder. Giebink is trying to teach her to make sounds, because her brain and mouth struggle to connect. When parents, like Betty’s mom, first come to Giebink they are often scared and feeling helpless.

“When Lisa came over the first time I cried because it was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, somebody is on my team, somebody knows what to do. I have no idea what I’m doing,'” Jen Baehr, Betty’s mom, said.

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Giebink not only teaches the kids, but also their parents, so they can practice these lessons 24 hours at home.

“My hope is that I can help parents figure out ways to use strategies to help their children learn to communicate in their home doing their everyday activities,” Giebink said.

If the sounds don’t come out, Giebink teaches them how to communicate through sign language, which Betty has picked up since meeting with Lisa.

“It just makes me so happy to see her signing mom and dad and ‘I love you,'” Jen said.

Giebink says she’s always been drawn to people with disabilities. In her free time, she uses her love of sewing to make dresses for a Twin Cities annual pageant that features developmentally-delayed girls and young women. She says their bodies are not always easy to fit into traditional off-the-rack dresses, so she likes to alter the dresses for them.

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She also takes donated wedding gowns and makes prayer gowns for children who pass away in NICU so they can have a gown to be buried in.