“Surprise!” cheered the group of parents and students as their teacher walked through the classroom door… and by the look on his face; you could tell Mark Rincon truly was surprised.

Also, a bit confused by all the attention. That was cleared up quickly when Assistant Principal Jason Shipman presented Rincon with a certificate of appreciation.

See, this is Mr. Rincon’s first year at Anderson Elementary in Reno, but he’s had such a huge impact, that the administration honored him with a small ceremony. The students and parents from the strategies class at Anderson Elementary could barely contain their excitement.

"When we first walked in the classroom it was like walking in and seeing a best friend for my son. My son was excited to have him as his teacher - and still is," said Emily Harris.

"I love what I do and just seeing this kids bright faces every morning, just inspires me," says Rincon

This is no ordinary classroom - all of Rincon’s students fall somewhere on the Autism spectrum. Prior to this year, Anderson Elementary did not have a dedicated Strategies class, now Rincon leads a team of special educators.

"And welcoming families and students where they didn't participate before and making them very valued members in a hurry," Assistant Principal Shipman explains.

And he does it with heart.

Mark Rincon grew up with a family member with developmental disabilities. That experience inspired him to become a teacher and help today's parents find better resources for their children with special needs. 

Mom Emily says she’s so grateful. "Just completely changed his life, and our life at home as his parents, being able to read a book to him and him being able to read back to us". Her son can also count to 100 and have full conversations – things he never was able to do before.

Rincon says it's the parents who inspire him.

"Seeing their daily routine,” he explains, “Their struggles and working with them together to see their children be successful in the education system."

Rincon also works with other teachers who have students with special needs. "His work ethic and his ability to connect with students has been really inspirational, not just for me but for the entire staff here,” says co-worker and 1st grade teacher Jane Cashell.

Rincon just received his Master’s degree and plans to continue building the Strategies program at Anderson.