Karen Benda hadn’t been using her physical education degree very long before she changed her career path.
After earning her degree from Tabor College, she coached for the Special Olympics in Marion County. She loved it so much that she decided to go back to school to get a master’s degree in special education from Emporia State University.
She is now in her 25th year teaching special education at Hillsboro High School, after spending five years teaching at Hillsboro Elementary School.
On Thursday, Benda said her favorite part of the job is interacting with her students, and it isn’t a one-way flow of information.
“They teach me enough, too,” she said.
Her students, practically born with cell phones in their hands, are able to answer Benda’s technology questions most of the time.
She said she always tries to help students understand their strengths. Special education students hear plenty about the areas they struggle with, often resulting in a lack of confidence in their academic strengths. She likes channeling those students to their strengths and interests.
Earlier this year, while teaching U.S. history, Benda knew she had to find a way to relate the subject to her students on a personal level. Her solution was a genealogy project, with students learning how their families came to the U.S.
Away from school, Benda also focuses her energy on helping children. She has served as a foster parent for about 13 years. Foster parenting is something she has wanted to do as far back as when she was in high school, and the opportunity finally fell into place.
“Kids are my life, on the job and off the job,” she said.
HHS Principal Max Heinrichs said Benda’s longevity teaching special education is an enormous asset. She knows a wealth of techniques to help her students, he said.