MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — This week’s Excellent Educator isn’t just doing awesome work in the classroom; she’s making a difference in the whole school.

Wyayn Rasmussen has been working with students with autism spectrum for 30 years. She heads the Academy of Whole Learning in St. Louis Park, a school where specially-trained teachers help students with autism and related learning differences thrive in a classroom environment.

Under her leadership, the school is meeting a growing need in the community, and that is what makes Rasmussen an Excellent Educator.

“Wow, this is quite a surprise,” she said.

Surprises are not always a welcome part of a day for students with autism. But Rasmussen’s children were OK taking a break from their highly structured day to recognize their beloved teacher.

“We are the only private school in the Twin Cities area and we have students coming here from all seven counties, even a family coming from western Wisconsin,” she said.

Rasmussen has customized the learning environment to meet the students’ sensory needs, from covering the fluorescent lights, to keeping class sizes small.

“What you will see here primarily is the small class sizes, we have eight to 10 students in a classroom,” she said.

With two teachers per class, every student gives individualized attention. The classes in this K-12 school are not divided up by age or grade.

“We group them by their ability level, by their social skills level,” Rasmussen said.

Instead of grades, the classes are labeled bodies of water, such as Gooseberry Falls, Lake Nokomis or Cedar Lake. The goal is to make sure no student feels behind or ahead of their peers.

Since taking over the school four years ago, enrollment has grown.

“I started here four years ago with enrollment at 15 students, now we are at 55 students,” she said. “I think it’s growing so much because people are becoming more aware of the diagnosis with autism or understanding that students with related learning differences need special help.”

And Rasmussen is giving them that special help, giving them a sense of normalcy which she says is the best part of her job.

“Many of our students were not successful in previous settings. But when I walk down the halls here I see our students greeting each other, laughing and smiling, walking from classroom to classroom, just being students, being successful students, having friends being invited to birthday parties, sometimes for the first time ever. So, I think my favorite thing about this school is just that were just a school,” she said.

Because of the growing student body, the school is moving to a new campus in Minnetonka next year so they can offer their services to even more families.

If you have a teacher you’d like to nominate as an Excellent Educator, click here.


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