As a math teacher it doesn’t take Eva Benine long to figure out how many miles she put on finishing her Principal Licensure program from Regis University.

Benine, who teaches junior high and high school math and science for the Aguilar Public Schools, knew when she enrolled in the program that online learning wouldn’t be for her.

“I do well with people,” she said. “I need to bounce ideas off others and listen to what is happening.” 

For most classes, Benine made the 167-mile trip from Aguilar — in southern Colorado between Walsenburg and Trinidad — to the Denver Tech Center Campus and sometimes to the Northwest Denver Campus. With 11 courses, taken in five-week blocks, meetings on the weekend and the mileage is?

“Somewhere in the neighborhood of more than 18,500 miles,” she said.

For Benine, it was incredibly important to stay and teach in the community she loves. Benine, who graduated in fall 2018, now turns her attention back to the rural community of Aguilar.

Why commute?

Things in rural Colorado are rough. I had no idea if I was experiencing the same things that educators in the Denver area were. I mean, sometimes we are so isolated from the world, we think we are alone.  Online programs are good but are not the same as hearing the real-life stories and situations presented by the professors. The validation that our problems in the southern part of the state are similar to those up north was priceless.  

What are your hopes for Aguilar?

I would love to be able to be an agent for change in my district. I want to make things better for the students in my community. I want to open doors for them to the world outside Las Animas County. I have been thinking of trying to find a way to bring the plight of the rural districts to the attention of those in positions of power. I want to be an advocate for students in rural districts and I want to make a difference.

Why is it important to do the work in your community rather than in a bigger city?

There are students here who need a voice. They need someone to believe in them and someone who understands what it is like to be raised in a town with no stop lights and only two or three paved roads. So many people come in and are going to “fix” us. They try to make a rural district turn around with what worked in their urban area or affluent area. That is not who we are. Some students’ only hot meals are the ones they eat at school.  Many students have to work to help their parents make ends meet, or are responsible for siblings. I think that it is important for them to see that someone from here can succeed in school, get a degree or two and choose to be here with them."