At Roosevelt High School in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, students often line up to see teacher Gina Benz, a popular teacher who teaches AP Language and Composition as well as Foundations of Language and Composition, a class for struggling learners that includes ELL (English Language Learner) English, and Teacher Pathway, a class for students who want to explore a career in teaching.
What makes Benz a standout educator is how deeply she cares about her students, her school and her community. She is known for getting results from her students, whether they be high-achievers or reluctant learners. The consummate professional, she can relate and respond to all types of learners.
Growing up, Benz had limited academic opportunities in the rural South Dakota schools she attended. But perhaps becoming a teacher was in her genes. Her grandmother taught in a one-room schoolhouse on the South Dakota prairie. Now, Benz mentors new and veteran teachers and leaders in her school and district officials often seek her input. In addition to teaching English, she also helps students at Roosevelt prepare for the ACT.
Due to her influence, AP sections at the school have increased from one to five and from 25 to 120 students. Many students sign up for her AP class just so they can have her as a teacher. When she started teaching at the school, her students had a 50% pass rate on the AP exams. That has increased to a 76% pass rate – an impressive feat. The national average is 50% and every student scored at least a two on the exam. Some students at Roosevelt have passed enough AP exams to start college as a junior!
Benz once led the AP program at Roosevelt as the AP Department Chair. In this position, she provided leadership, mentoring, and support for the school's AP program, which is made up of 19 different AP courses, 21 teachers, and 500 students. Benz also supplied the expertise, guidance, and manpower needed to administer almost 800 AP exams to 400 students each year.
She has since give up that role to be where her heart is, in the classroom. Benz is known for having a steady demeanor and is a model of character and integrity. She’s easy to approach and if students are feeling depressed or having problems they feel comfortable seeking her out. She says her classroom is not just a safe place, but also a brave place. When Benz noticed a homeless student who needed help, she took the student in and helped to find a home.
Benz gets numerous friend requests from her former students on Facebook and alumni often return to visit. She is influential in the career choices of others. One of the school’s top students, for example, wants to be a high school English teacher to follow in her favorite teacher’s footsteps.
Benz received a Bachelor of Arts in English and Secondary Education from the University of Sioux Falls in 2000 and a Master of Arts in English from South Dakota State University in 2009.
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