FREEPORT, Fla. (WMBB) – When you spend a few minutes in Jennifer Dickson’s classroom at Freeport Elementary School, there’s an overwhelming sense of joy.

“I love being here,” said Jennifer Dickson. “I love these kids.”

Dickson teaches K-3 students who have special needs. Most of her lessons are interactive and go beyond learning how to read and write.

“Learning how to be a good person and learning how to interact in our big scary world is really, I feel like, is my most important job,” said Dickson.

Her passion for teaching is personal. Dickson has two children with autism who are now in their 20’s. She learned ABA therapy and homeschooled them, before she went on to teach others in a classroom setting just in the last few years.

“I’ve had people ask me, how do you work those special kids all the time? Isn’t that hard?,” said Dickson. “It’s not hard. I cant think of anything else to do other than work with these guys, because they fill my heart with joy.”

“Jennifer just really loves the children, she just loves them so much,” said James Bain. He nominated Dickson. His autistic daughter, Starla, is a former student of Dickson’s. While she’s not a student of hers this year, she checks in frequently. Bain said she’s also more like mother figure to Starla.

“She calls her momma,” said Bain. “There are several children up in Alabama when she was there, that have an absent mom, and also call her mom.”

In addition to being a role model, parents also say she’s an advocate for their children.

“I know that she will fight for the kids in this classroom just like she does for her own,” said Kristi Goudie. Her autistic son, Jack, has Dickson for a teacher again this year. Goudie said Dickson really cares about her students.

“She puts a lot of time and effort into knowing what triggers each specific child which is a really important, because every single kid has their own special needs,” said Goudie.