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Charity recognizes teacher for his dedication


Jan. 18, 2013
<b>Laura Phillips Ward, president of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Connecticut and Western Massachusetts, presented Agawam High School (AHS) mathematics teacher Nikali Benkert with a plaque commemorating his RMHC Local Hero Award, which recognizes 10 outstanding area teachers each year. Also pictured are Agawam Public Schools Superintendent William Sapelli (left) and AHS Principal Steven Lemanski (right).</b><br>Reminder Publications submitted photo

Laura Phillips Ward, president of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Connecticut and Western Massachusetts, presented Agawam High School (AHS) mathematics teacher Nikali Benkert with a plaque commemorating his RMHC Local Hero Award, which recognizes 10 outstanding area teachers each year. Also pictured are Agawam Public Schools Superintendent William Sapelli (left) and AHS Principal Steven Lemanski (right).
Reminder Publications submitted photo

By Carley Dangona

carley@thereminder.com

AGAWAM — Nikali Benkert, a mathematics teacher at Agawam High School, was one of ten educators deemed a "2012 Local Hero" by Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC). As part of the recognition, RMHC awarded a $1,000 grant to each of the recipient's schools.

According to a spokesperson at RMHC, for the sixth consecutive year, ten teachers were recognized them for "tremendous dedication to their profession and outstanding efforts in serving their schools and communities."

Laura Phillips Ward, president of RMHC of Connecticut and Western Massachusetts, said, "These teachers don't just show up in the classroom. 'Humble' is the adjective that personifies every one of the teachers."

"For me, a hero is someone willing to sacrifice themselves for the betterment of others," Benkert said. "My goal is not to serve myself."

He continued, "The award was a little bit of an embarrassment — the teachers around me are working just as hard." While Benkert immediate shared the news with his family, he waited two months before mentioning it to his colleagues. He noted that what he does isn't unusual and being recognized for it was unexpected.

Benkert, a teacher for 12 years, enjoys the subject of math and described it as having "an art and a beauty."

Benkert credits his Christian faith for his success and begins each day with prayer, asking God to give him the discernment and energy to assist those who cross his path in need of help. "I give it all to the Lord. I don't drink coffee — if you are doing what He wants, He gives you the energy," he added.

Doing so can mean providing an opportunity for students to meet with him prior to the start of school so they can discuss their lives — good or bad — or, helping students form new afterschool clubs.

Regardless of the need, Benkert makes a point to let students know his door is always open.

He told Reminder Publications that the individual attention does indeed make a positive impact in the students' lives.

"It's paramount to give students individual attention. That's why I put so many hours in — students need reassurance of who they are. I carve out time to get to know students," he explained.

A result of this interaction is a birthday slide show, which Benkert puts together throughout the year as he learns about students' interests, and then shows it on the student's birthday.

In addition to teaching, Benkert spends 12 to 15 hours a week serving as the music director for his home parish, Christ Presbyterian Church in Springfield.

He also takes time to volunteer within his community and beyond. He participated with member from his church to assist those affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. Benkert explained that it is second nature for him to assist those in need.

As Benkert stated a future goal of his career is to look at the school curriculum to see how "we can raise the bar effectively — for everyone."

He said, "In my math classes, I set the bar really high. The kids get there part of the way, and my job as a teacher is to help them the rest of the way. The key is that the kids know I care. It's how you get up after you fall down [that builds character]."

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