WORTHINGTON - Marla Somnis hasn’t had what she’d consider a “typical day” at work in more than three decades.

It’s been that unpredictable, fluid schedule that she attributes to making her 32 years at Independent School District 518 fly by.

“You have to be flexible,” she said about working as a paraprofessional in the special education department at Prairie Elementary, noting the importance of adapting to students' unique needs.

Beginning Friday, Somnis’ career will reach its cap as she enters into retirement.  

Among the schools in which Somnis has worked during her tenure at District 518 are the now-defunct Central Elementary School and Lakeview School, which was a residential facility for children with disabilities.

When she began in 1987, she served as a physical therapist/occupational therapist aide at Lakeview School. That’s a time she remembers well three decades later.

“One of my favorite memories was at Lakeview at Christmas,” she said. “We’d all get dressed up, have our Christmas program and the kids would get gifts. Maybe, for some of the kids, it was the best Christmas they’d have.”  

During her second year with the district, Somnis transferred between the other buildings in the district’s special education autism department. She’s remained set at Prairie Elementary since it opened in 2001, working closely with special education teacher Amy Ebbers.

“That’s where I fit in,” she said of her move to helping children in the autism department.

Each day, she and her other colleagues would rotate between students to expose them to different styles of teaching. It was important to work together as a team, she added, as they all had the same goal in mind.

The only thing she could count on doing on any given day was picking up students in a van who couldn’t ride the bus alone.

“That’s what I’ve done for the first hour each day,” she said.

Somnis preferred working with the younger students so she could be an influence at an earlier stage in their development process, which has been one of the greatest rewards of her 32 years.

“It’s just fun to see the kids grow up and become successful,” she said, adding that she’s routinely held kids accountable so that they can develop to a stage where they can realize and be proud of their own success.

Somnis has not only enjoyed watching students reach their potential, but she’s also seen education evolve during her experience at ISD 518. The 1975 WHS graduate said the teaching technique was once “black and white” - kids showed up and followed the rules without much regard to what was occurring in their lives outside of school.

“Each child has so much going on in their life - I see that a lot,” she said. “Now (teaching) is based on everybody’s needs and strengths.”

Somnis said she enjoyed having a job with a schedule that coincided with that of her three daughters as they attended the district.

Somnis and her husband, Jeff, have called Reading home for more than 40 years.

“I like the small town,” she said.

While Somnis has enjoyed her time at District 518, she’s also thrilled for the next chapter of her life. That chapter will include lots of traveling and enjoying her seven grandchildren that live in Chicago, Ill.; Columbus, Ohio; and Monument, Colo.

“That’s the attractive thing about retiring - I’m not afraid to get up and go,” she said of visiting her grandkids and being able to attend more of their activities.

When she’s not piling the “grandma” miles on her car, Somnis plans to continue being active in the Reading community. For years she's been involved at the Bethel Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Reading Community Theatre, Reading Community Center and Wilmont Garden Club.

Other ISD 518 retiring teachers and their years of service include: Pat Doyscher, 29 years, WHS; Kathy Rain, 27, WMS; Sandy Sumner, 22, WMS; LaDonna Fisher, 21, Prairie; Casey Morfitt, 16, WMS; Deb Scheidt, 14, Prairie; Jaidy Kolander,13, Nobles County Integration Collaborative; Mildred Hamblin, 10, Prairie; Donna Reimer, nine, Prairie; Carole Wiese, nine, Community Ed; Ginny Hibma, eight, Prairie; and Diane Andersen, seven, Community Ed.