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Pitman teacher's aide to represent county in state award program
Karen Souza pic
Pitman High teacher's aide Karen Souza works with a student on math skills on Friday. Souza was one of five chosen to represent Stanislaus County at the State School Employee of the Year program. - photo by NANCY ANGEL / The Journal

From a very early age, Karen Souza felt a special connection to her fellow students who didn’t quite fit in.  Souza eventually turned her passion for inclusion into a career as a teacher's aide in special education.

She has now been a para-educator at Pitman High School for three years,  and was one of five classified employees chosen to represent Stanislaus County in the California School Employee of the Year program.

Called “Pinky” by her peers, Souza was recognized for her assistance and support to her coworkers including the unwavering love she has for her students with special needs.

“Karen is the mother figure of our classroom,” said teacher Ryan Bullard.  “She is caring and passionate with all her students and makes sure everyone is okay, including the staff.”

With her patient, caring and compassionate attitude, Souza celebrates countless victories with her students every day.

“Everybody’s patience is in a different area,” said Souza.  “I find joy out of molding and telling my students that they’re valuable every single day.  A lot of these kids don’t know how gifted they are and it makes me proud being able to bring their skills to life.”

While only being at Pitman for three years, Souza began working in special education at age 20.

“The first time I was exposed to kids of special needs was in an after-school program.  After working in offices jobs my husband encouraged me to go back to school and pursue what I loved.  I haven’t turned back since,” she said.

In the classroom, Souza makes sure that no student who crosses her path leaves school without the tools to be independent and successful in life.

“To be honored for my hard work is a humbling feeling,” said Souza.  “I love my students as my own kids.”

For Souza, the most rewarding part of her job is watching the progression of her students from the time they enter her classroom to the time they leave.

“I feel as if my students teach me a lot more that I teach them,” she said.  “Waking up every day into a profession I love is the icing on the cake.”