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CHICAGO —Mrs. Marisa Schwinn is shaping her kindergarten students with daily affirmations and it starts with a song.

“I’m strong, I’m brave, I’m smart. I’m kind …” the song begins.

Her kindergarten students at St. Ann School are learning how to love – themselves and each other.

“I struggle with anxiety, depression and self-esteem,” she said. “And honestly if I had someone teach me that at a young age, I think how I would cope and how I would view things would be a lot different.”

It is her fourth year teaching at the school.

“It’s my mission to teach the kids those life skills that I didn’t get when I was younger because it’s not just academics, it’s the whole child,” she said.

With some students at home during the pandemic, Schwinn’s focus has been on E-learning. And she’s had a big impact on 5-year-old John, who has autism.

“There’s so many things I can say about her,” John’s mother Yvonne Hall said. “The first day John met her she said, ‘Hi.’ John doesn’t gravitate to people easily. He went to her and hugged her. That just spoke volumes to me.”

And around the house, she often catches him singing the self-esteem song.

“It lifts my spirits,” Hall said.

“I am so grateful I get to be his teacher,” Schwinn said.

Schwinn was nominated for teacher of the month for her dedication and going above and beyond to connect with each student to make sure they all feel welcomed and loved.

“I know this sounds cheesy, but this group will change the world,” she said. “We have so many kiddos in there that are strong, hard-working and kind. … There are times I question my purpose and question if this is the right thing for me to be doing. And that just solidifies I’m in the right place right now.”

Schwinn said she’s only a reflection of the school’s dedicated staff of teachers.