For Rick Rauch's 14-year-old autistic daughter, Melanie, completing a sentence can be difficult.

For Rick Rauch's 14-year-old autistic daughter, Melanie, completing a sentence can be difficult.

The seventh-grader at Canal Winchester Middle School stunned her parents two months ago when she placed her hand upon her chest and recited the entire Pledge of Allegiance at their home.

"All of a sudden, she repeated the whole thing, word for word," he said.

Rauch credits his daughter's teacher, Brandon Theiss, for her transformation this school year. He said her speech and attitude -- both in and out of the classroom -- improves with each passing day. And, it's the first time she's ever made the honor roll.

"He's done wonders for these kids," Rauch said of Theiss. "It's just truly amazing what he's done with them."

Here's the kicker: This is Theiss' first year of teaching.

Theiss said he can't take all the credit for his students' successes (most of them made the honor roll during the first quarter of the school year). It's a team effort involving other staff members, the students and their parents and him, he said.

"Michelle is really what makes this room work," Theiss said of his classroom assistant, Michelle Collier. "We get along so well. It helps the room flow."

Collier described Theiss as patient, understanding and flexible with his students. He also puts in a lot of time, she said, and sometimes even works on Sundays.

"I can't say enough good things about him," said Canal Winchester Middle School principal Cassy Miller, adding that Theiss has a wonderful rapport with students and parents.

She said the students can sense his enthusiasm and love for special education.

"Just to see the smiles on their faces he really does get the best out of our students," Miller said.

Theiss served as an aide for two years at Worthington City Schools while completing his master's degree in education through Antioch University McGregor. He grew up in Westerville and currently lives in Pickerington with his wife, Janel.

Theiss, a former corrections officer for a juvenile detention center, said he enjoys working with children with disabilities. His late aunt had Down Syndrome, he said.

When returning to school to earn his master's degree, Theiss said he observed a special education classroom and instantly knew that's what he wanted to do.

"I wanted this type of room," Theiss said, referring to his multiple disabilities classroom. "I got very lucky."

His eight students are in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

Each student's individualized education program (IEP) drives what they learn, according to Theiss, and each one has a schedule -- either in words or pictures -- that they follow throughout the school day. Those daily schedules are meant to help reduce student anxiety about what will happen next.

Theiss said the students do all of their academic work in his classroom. They also work on building social and life skills as well. Each morning, the students are assigned jobs such as checking that day's cafeteria menu or reporting on the day's weather.

Theiss started a mentoring program through which other students at the middle school interact with students in his class. He said it gives his students an opportunity to socialize with students without disabilities, and vice versa.

"We all learn from each other," he said. "We all have our own unique perspective on life. Each of our opinions should be valued."

His students participate in weekly cooking activities related to current events covered in the classroom. During the cooking activities, they learn to work together and make fun concoctions, like "Swine Flu Tea."

Theiss said he most enjoys working with his students on academic or social activities in small groups of two to four students.

"It's always interesting to hear their perspectives on things," he said. "That's probably the thing I value the most in this room."