Growing up in Texas, Bernard Zell third grade teacher, Benje Casper developed a love for Dallas’ Camp Chai and still maintains a deep affection for his summer camp experiences—an institution he first attended as a camper, later as a counselor and eventually as a supervisory unit head. Being a part of a caring Jewish community, and eventually helping to build and maintain that community in a professional role was a big part of what inspired Benje to work with kids.
As an undergrad at the University of Texas at Dallas, Benje studied Child Psychology and spent time during his college career working with children with autism. He was paired with a few families doing behavioral therapy, working on fine motor skills and helping these individuals to acclimate to life with their neurotypical siblings and classroom peers. While he loved the individuals he worked with, Benje had a desire to once again engage with young people in a group setting, much like his time at Camp Chai.
Following his college graduation, Benje relocated to Chicago to be amongst friends, and while he had planned to take a few months off to relax and settle in, an online ad for a teacher’s aide position led him to Bernard Zell. On his first visit, the environment immediately felt warm and familiar. Having been involved in his own Jewish community growing up and with all of his time at Camp Chai, Bernard Zell became a home in a new city, in a new phase of life.
Benje started in Kindergarten as a teacher’s aid and after six months returned to school to get a Master’s degree in Elementary Education from National Louis University. While pursuing his degree he became a Lower School intern and eventually student-taught for Bene Lederer before covering a maternity leave in fourth grade, an assignment that he loved. But when that temporary role came to an end, a position in third-grade opened up, and it turned out to be the perfect place for Benje, and it’s the grade he has remained in ever since.
Never shy to take on a new responsibility at school, Benje has wrapped his arms around so many facets to BZ life, coaching basketball and track, leading the Behind the Fence Club, helping out as part of the new Tinker Team, attending fundraisers, and of course, being the familiar voice of lunchtime announcements. Now, almost a decade since he first came to Bernard Zell, Benje is thrilled that the place that offered him comfort and community when he was new to town, allows him to be a friendly, welcoming presence for so many others.