Woman bypasses chemistry career to teach kids

DENVER - Kim Bertha had reached the height of her career as a chemist but something was missing. The idea of being a teacher came to mind.

"I thought I would teach high school chemistry," Betha said. "I went to Metro State University and the only advisor available was the special-education advisor. I've never looked back."

Bertha teaches a small group of students who are in kindergarten through second grade at Omar Blair Charter School. It is a one-of-a-kind program among Denver charter schools. Because of her success, the district is considering opening more programs like it.

"These students are here because they can't access things in a very basic way," Bertha said. "In a general education classroom, information is presented, and everyone is supposed to absorb it. That doesn't work for a lot of people."

Bertha uses all sorts of things to engage the children. Toys, paint and costumes are part of most lessons. The kids really like going on scavenger hunts throughout the school, looking for items that start with a certain alphabet letter. Bertha says different ways of learning open up different avenues of the brain.

The students do not spend the entire day with Bertha. They return to their homerooms for a good part of the day. What they learn from Bertha helps them succeed with their peers.

"They gain self-confidence and a lot of independence," Bertha said of her students. "They realize that they can do anything anybody else can do. They're able to embrace their differences and build on their strengths. They're great. They're brilliant."

Families of students say they never imagined the breakthroughs they've seen in their children since meeting Bertha.

"My daughter was in Mrs. Bertha's class for two school years," Shelleen Salaza-Figueroa said. "Within that time, she made huge progress as a special needs child. We've seen her do things physicians said she would not be able to do with her disabilities."

The love and appreciate goes both ways.

"These parents have really taught me about the courage that is needed to have a kid with special needs and to look beyond their disabilities and advocate for them," Bertha said.

Bertha credits her co-workers and the administration at Omar Blair for encouraging such a positive environment. She says she is very blessed.

"I know everyone thinks I'm here to make these children better people but I could never give back to them what they give to me every single day," Bertha said.

If you know a teacher who is making a positive impression on his or her students, please consider a nomination to the 9Teachers Who Care program.

For more information, visit: http://on9news.tv/PxLrmR.


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