Published Jan. 31, 2023
By TERESA FRAHM
Entering their second year teaching at Carmel High School, Keira “Beni” Benidettino serves as a cornerstone of the special education program as a math and academic study hall teacher and a pillar of support for the campus LGBTQ community.
Benidittino, who uses they/them pronouns and asks to be addressed as Beni, fills a role on campus centered on LGBTQ advocacy, support and education. As one of few members of CUSD staff with a gender diverse identity, they are able to provide a unique perspective within the school and with the Be Yourself Club, Carmel’s gender-sexuality alliance, of which they are the club adviser.
“Beni is such a great advocate for LGBTQ issues, and they do a lot for this school,” CHS librarian Philip Crawford says.“They’re always positive and optimistic and always right on point.”
Due to their identity and activism, Beni reports misunderstanding and discomfort among some members of the Carmel community about their role at the school.
“There’s definitely voices in this local culture that are driven by fear and not understanding and who will feel uncomfortable with ideas about gender identity that they didn’t grow up with,” Beni says. “It’s important to have dialogue and to be able to provide context so we aren’t confronting people across a chasm but are actually understanding and connecting with each other.”
Beni helps create a valuable safe environment for students and staff within the LGBTQ community, both within their classroom and through their work with the Be Yourself Club.
“They provide a safe space for people,” says senior Teagan Puryear, a member of the Be Yourself Club. “A lot of students on campus don’t have that.”
Fostering a culture of support and acceptance is a part of their work that Beni sees as vital.
“It’s really important for me to help create and be part of a safe community that celebrates uniqueness and diversity and provides not only a place of community and safety, but the opportunity to explore the wider world,” Beni says.
Special education in particular has been the primary focus of Beni’s teaching career.
“There really is a crying need for special education teachers,” Beni says. “Special education spends a lot of time thinking about how people think and how they learn. I think that’s the kind of meta awareness of education that appeals to me.”
Before devoting their time to educating others, Beni’s own schooling took an unusual path. An alumnus of several alma maters, they graduated with a bachelor’s degree from UC Santa Cruz, a Master of Business Administration from Santa Clara University and later a Master of Education from Northern Illinois University.
Despite their lifelong love of learning and teaching, Beni’s career began in business before a life-threatening medical event allowed them to reconsider.
“It was a new plan,” they say. “I realized I’d been given another life, a second chance. I wanted to have precious things in my life every day, and there’s nothing more precious in life than teaching. So I started doing what is precious.”
This commitment is well received by students, among many of whom they have a sterling reputation.
“They’re one of the few people on campus that I feel completely safe around,” says sophomore Be Yourself Club member Orla Cook. “You can tell they genuinely care.”
Ultimately, Beni’s role at CHS centers on that: genuinely caring for the students, the school and the staff.
“There’s something about being around people at a stage of their life,” Beni says. “It fills me with hope and connects me to the future.”