Karen Turgeon has been a Special Education teacher for more than 40 years. For most of that career she has also been a coach of various sports including Unified Sports®. Karen retired from teaching at Berlin Middle-High School at the end of the 2021 – 2022 school year.
Karen grew up in Berlin, New Hampshire. It’s where she has spent most of her career and it’s where she has made an impact on the lives of countless students. While she won’t be in the classroom anymore, she does plan to stay on as a coach for the Unified Sports Berlin offers.
Karen’s involvement with Special Olympics New Hampshire spans 47 years. It’s no coincidence that she began volunteering with SONH when she was in high school. She wanted to get out of doing a term paper. Her Sociology teacher was in the initial stages of bringing Special Olympics to Berlin and he needed volunteers. He offered his students the opportunity to skip writing a term paper if they would spend Saturday mornings volunteering for the fledgling local program. “Just about the whole class was there” Turgeon says. That experience with Special Olympics put Karen on her trajectory to Special Education, SONH and Unified Sports.
On the education side she beams with pride talking about her Life Skills program at Berlin Middle-High School. She designed a curriculum that could easily adjust to each individual’s abilities. Written language skills to instill a comfort level with filling out forms, reading skills tailored to each student and basic math skills. The program has been part of the Berlin school system for about 30 years.
Food Service is an ideal way to develop a variety of skills. Reading recipes, following directions, math skills involving budgeting and running a cash register. The vocational department partnered with Karen and opened a restaurant in the school where the teachers and staff could purchase lunch.
The restaurant offers students the opportunity to rotate through various jobs and each week the students have a different job or assignment. There is a standard sandwich menu along with daily specials and weekly soup specials. “The food is really pretty good” according to school principal Michael Kelly. Turgeon feels good about the future of the Life Skills program at Berlin. The current middle school Life Skills teacher is stepping up to teach the course at the high school level.
Principal Michael Kelly raves about Turgeon’s Life Skills program, “The programs that she’s developed here between the Life Skills and the Unified basketball team are just unbelievable.” Kelly has been an educator for 29 years and says of Turgeon, “She’s about the most dedicated person to students with disabilities that I’ve ever seen.”
You might think that if someone were to ask Karen about her favorite memory from a long history of coaching, she would have to give it some thought. Nope. One recollection bubbles to the top almost instantly. It was 2016 ,and her Unified Basketball team made it to the state championship finals for the first time against Keene. “That was back when there were 43 teams in the division and to be playing at that level was huge” she says. It was the first of several trips to the finals for the team.
Fast forward to 2022 and just ahead of her retirement; Karen served as co-Head of Delegation for Team New Hampshire at the USA Games in Orlando. She’s attended three USA Games events and one World Games event in various capacities over the years so she’s uniquely qualified to compare the games. She’s enjoyed all her outings with Team New Hampshire but says the Disney component to the 2022 Games made this year “at another level” that truly did make this a once in a lifetime experience.
The tone of the conversation changes when she’s asked about her takeaway memory from the Orlando event. “The graduation was cool” she says. She’s referring to SONH athlete Ellie Havrda whose high school graduation ceremony coincided with the USA Games. Ellie made the tough decision to compete at the games and miss her graduation. Her teammates on the athletics team had other ideas. With their coach’s help they obtained a cap and gown in the Hanover High School colors created their own graduation ceremony and parade for Ellie at their hotel. The video is on the SONH YouTube channel here.
It turns out that Ellie wasn’t the only delegate faced with that difficult decision. “I missed my graduation of my students, so it was a little emotional for me because I had students who graduated who I’d had for seven years” Turgeon says through tears.
Her voice starts to crack again as she explains that she feels the time is right for her to retire from teaching, “Well… it’s been my passion. I’m not going to be totally out of it, I’m still going to coach, I’m still going to do Special Olympics… I’m just taking a step back. It’s been a remarkable and rewarding ride.”
Pictured Above: Karen Turgeon at the 2022 USA Games in Orlando, FL.