Debbie Reynolds, Pennsylvania AEM
Posted on September 26, 2022 at 1:12 PM by Virginia Smith
Debbie Reynolds, a Pennsylvania AEM shown here on her CAP TOP Flight, has been a teacher since 1986.
September 26, 2022
Meet Debbie Reynolds, an AEM in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, suburbs. She has been an educator for more than 25 years and is now the director of Techworks at Commonwealth Charter Academy (CCA). TechWorks is a new hands-on, career-focused lab for CCA students across the state of Pennsylvania. The school has 22,000 online learners. "We are Pennsylvania's largest public cyber charter, a Title I school, and we also have approximately 28 percent of our student population identified as special education." After a teaching career took her several states as her husband's job changed locations, she settled outside Pittsburgh, where one of her roles was STEM specialist. "I absolutely fell in love with STEM," she says, "and in 2015, I got my Masters in Curriculum and Instruction with a STEM emphasis." Her CCA role combines her love of STEM and school administration with getting to meet with students daily. She has found CAP's programs and materials engage her students. Last month, she attended CAP's 2022 National Conference in Louisville. "I enjoyed attending the educator events and brought back some great ideas to share with the educators in my school," she says. She is passionate about aerospace and STEM education. "Students are naturally curious, and within these two fields, there is a place for all of them. My favorite phrase is 'See It To Be It!' I think that students need to see themselves in these different areas, and by teaching with Aerospace and STEM, that is entirely possible." We asked her some questions about her teaching career and involvement with CAP. Her answers follow.
Tell us about your career as an educator and your current school/organization.
I have been a teacher since 1986, though my younger brother and sister would say that I started teaching them when they were little and we played “school.” After graduating from Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas, I was fortunate enough to return home to my childhood district to teach middle school science at Lamar Middle School in Irving, Texas. What made it even more special was that one of my very favorite high school Biology teachers had moved into administration and then became my first vice-principal. She was the one who inspired me to become a science teacher, and she also introduced me to my husband. I taught in Texas for about 7 years, and then we started moving for my husband’s job. I had a stint as a middle school science teacher in the Perkiomen Valley School District in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, for 3.5 years and time at both Pinewood Christian Academy (middle school science and math) and Middleburg High School (physical science) in the Jacksonville, Florida, area before returning to Pennsylvania again.
We currently live in a suburb of Pittsburgh, where I spent 12 years with the Baldwin-Whitehall School District as a high school gifted coordinator, a middle school science teacher, and the STEM specialist. I absolutely fell in love with STEM, and in 2015, I got my Masters in Curriculum and Instruction with a STEM emphasis. In 2018, I also got my K-12 principal certificate.
At the start of the 2020 school year, I joined Commonwealth Charter Academy (CCA) as the Director of TechWorks -- a new hands-on, career-focused lab for students across the state of Pennsylvania. We have 22,000 online learners. We are Pennsylvania's largest public cyber charter, a Title I school, and we also have approximately 28 percent of our student population identified as special education. I love this new role that I am in, because it is the best of both worlds -- I am an administrator, but I still work with students on a daily basis. At our TechWorks lab, we run both in-person and virtual offerings for our K-12 students in robotics, coding, drones, VR, manufacturing, cybersecurity and much more.
What is your philosophy of teaching?
I believe that education is the tool that drives the future for every student. Each learner that crosses the threshold into my classroom, and now our Lab, is a unique individual that comes with his or her own set of skills and experiences. As the teacher, it is crucial to meet students where they are and help them reach their full potential. We have all heard the phrase that every child can learn, but in order to truly accomplish that goal, it means a safe environment has been created that sets each student up for success.
In my classroom, students know they will be challenged -- and pushed with high expectation -- in an atmosphere that is welcoming and encourages risks. My class is student-centered and provides opportunities for the student to direct their own learning. I view my role as a facilitator and a mentor to engage my students as they work collaboratively, problem solve, use creative and critical thinking and communicate new skills and new ideas. By working hard, my students can gain the knowledge and develop the tools they need to become lifelong learners and successful, contributing members of our society.
Please list awards/honors/achievements you have received as an educator that you would like to include.
Pittsburgh Technology Council – Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference (TRETC) Innovation in Education Award 2021
Pennsylvania STEM Ambassador – 2021
Pennsylvania Association for Educational Communications and Technology (PAECT) Educator of the Year – 2020
Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship – DOD/NAVSEA – 2019
Summers of 2018-2019 – STEM Camp in Shenzhen, China
AirCamp for Educators Scholarship Recipient – 2019
Carnegie Science Award Winner – Middle Level Educator – 2019
Point Park University – K-12 Principal Certificate – 2018
NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador – 2018
Space Foundation Teacher Liaison – 2018
Honeywell Educator Space Academy Scholarship Recipient – 2018
Space Center Houston Space Educator Crew – 2017
Chevron/Steelers Leader in the Classroom – 2017
Keystone Technology Innovator – 2016
Concordia University of Portland – Masters of Education in Curriculum and Instruction with a STEM emphasis – 2015
Junior Achievement Educator of the Year – 2015
Please describe any Civil Air Patrol Aerospace Education programs you participate in and why you participate.
We have participated in STEM Kits, TOP Flight, and I am hoping to do ACE and ACE Plus with our school this year. I am also planning to do some kind of STEM day with CAP this year.
My very first STEM kit was the Sphero robotic balls. Those were such a huge hit with my 7th- and 8th-graders, and we used them often in the class and then even more when I moved into the STEM coordinator role. I also got the Rocketry and quadcopter kits. Using these hands-on materials with the students makes the lessons come to life and integrates well into different content areas.
This year I plan on requesting the flight simulator to bring to my new school. I am also running a drone program. We use Tello drones and are working students through coding them, using a simulator and then will be moving onto bigger drones. The plan is to get students FAA Part 107 certified.
How many years have you been involved in Civil Air Patrol?
I joined CAP in 2017, and so I have been a member for 5 years. It will be 6 in February.
How did you get involved in the Civil Air Patrol AEM program?
I learned about the CAP AEM program while attending the Space Educator Conference in Houston Texas.
Please tell us why you wanted to attend 2022 Civil Air Patrol’s National Conference in Louisville and what benefits you gained from the experience.
I was excited that the conference was in person and that I was able to attend and learn more about the programs that are offered for educators. I really enjoyed getting the chance to meet some of the leadership and some of the names that I have only met through email. I enjoyed attending the educator events and brought back some great ideas to share with the educators in my school. The Escape Room [STEM Kit activity session] was super fun, and I look forward to running that event with students soon. I also got to spend a lot of time with staff to help plan some events to do with my school.
Why do you teach in the Aerospace Education/STEM area?
I am so passionate about these two areas. Students are naturally curious and within these two fields, there is a place for all of them. My favorite phrase is 'See It To Be It!' I think that students need to see themselves in these different areas, and by teaching with Aerospace and STEM, that is entirely possible.
What do you and/or your students like about Civil Air Patrol programs/materials?
We love the variety of materials that are available to educators to use with students. The curriculum materials are in-depth and support educators where they might need additional background to share with students. I especially like how members of the Civil Air Patrol and even students in the squadrons are available to volunteer. My favorite thing was taking my TOP Flight when I attended the Space Exploration Educators Conference in Houston. I plan on taking one in Pittsburgh when I can.
What is the best advice you have for a new AEM working with CAP programs and materials?
Take a look at all of the many kits that are available for you to use in the classroom and find ways to incorporate these wonderful hands-on resources into your content. Be sure to ask for help if you need it. The education team is always willing to help.
Please tell an anecdote of a rewarding experience you have had working with students or colleagues using CAP programs.
I will never forget the day that I introduced the students to Spheros. The look on their faces was pure joy, and they had the best day. I particularly remember that one of my students who never participated in class and usually never did his work was so engaged and laughing. I started incorporating technology and the Spheros as much as I could that year, and it really changed some of my teaching methods.
The first CAP STEM Kit Debbie Reynolds used in her classroom was the Sphero kit.
She took a TOP Flight at the Space Exploration Educators Conference in Houston.