BOISE -- In a modular classroom near Fort Boise Park, Karen Gillette is molding minds, supporting her students and inspiring independence.

"I try to teach in the classroom like life," said Gillette. "So everything that we do is how you're going to be successful in life."

Gillette is an instructor in the Boise School District's post-graduation STEP program. That stands for Student Transition Education Program. All the students are ages 18-21 and have physical, emotional or intellectual disabilities.

They learn life skills including cooking, cleaning and budgeting, plus social skills.

"Which is huge," Gillette says. "And communication, and we teach them vocational skills."

Noel Williams is in Gillette's class.

"She's nice, she's sweet and she's kind," said Williams.

The 20-year-old is a hard worker, a bit of a joker, a good spokesman for his class and he has autism.

"There is some hard times and tough times, but thanks to all the teachers and everyone here I'm feeling like I can be independent eventually one day and I'll have my own job," said Williams.

Gillette's job for the last 34 years has been as a special education teacher.

"I volunteered in high school with people with disabilities and just knew that was something I wanted to do, and I've done it ever since," said Gillette.

For all her work, Gillette was recently honored with a Tribute to Women and Industry, or TWIN, Award.

"I was so honored to be able to be with all of these women in industry as a teacher to represent other teachers," said Gillette.

But it seems her greatest reward is seeing her students succeed.

"I have students that are in their 30's that stay in touch and invite me to their house for dinner and they cook and they live in their own houses and they show me their jobs, and their families actually become good friends of mine," said Gillette.

She figures she'll teach another 8 or 9 years, and then...

"I'll probably come back to STEP and volunteer," said Gillette.

It's hard to step away from what you love.