Baldwin teacher earns JA's National Bronze Leadership Award
Debbie Reynolds laughed along with her students, encouraging them as they tried to answer difficult questions about types of fatty acids, John Madden and the U.S. secretaries of war.
“Good job, guys,” she said. “You know this one.”
Reynolds was training Baldwin High School students for a local TV quiz show, just one of many tasks the gifted program coordinator takes on during the day.
Fourteen lists of programs and activities that students are signed up to participate in line her desk. They include the America Bowl that Baldwin will host for middle school students across the region to test their geography skills, the Shakespeare Monologue Competition and attending the Academic World Quest and Model Africa Competition at the University of Pittsburgh.
Ensuring that students at Baldwin High School are involved outside the classroom is important for Reynolds, who takes an active role in Junior Achievement, where she won the 2013 National Bronze Leadership Award. Amanda Laichak, director of education for Junior Achievement of Western Pennsylvania, presented the award at the Jan. 15 Baldwin-Whitehall School Board meeting.
Having a high school teacher receive the national JA award is a rarity, Laichak said, noting how this award typically goes to a superintendent or corporate leader.
“What tipped the scale for her to win this national award is her ability to coordinate quickly and effectively, be open to and available for outside community partnerships, be inclusive of all students in gifted and talented programming including refugee youth from around the world, and be alert and responsive to the needs of an ever-growing diverse population within Baldwin,” Laichak said.
“She sees and understands the academic potential in each and every youth at Baldwin, both American and international, and has gone above and beyond to cultivate their academic interests.”
Reynolds, a teacher since 1986, has worked at Baldwin High School for six years and spent the last five years collaborating with Junior Achievement, a nonprofit organization that brings the “real world” to students through hands-on curriculum delivered by trained classroom volunteers.
“Everything I do here is for the kids,” said Reynolds, whose students participate in the Junior Achievement Titan Challenge, where they serve as entrepreneurs and lead their own test businesses.
That was her introduction to the organization, where she now takes students on job shadowing trips each year to businesses like Bayer Corp. and AT&T.
Working with Junior Achievement is just part of Reynolds' daily activities with students at the high school, where a chain reaction contraption sits at the back of her classroom — the first of its kind constructed at the school for a regional competition.
“It's a really big part,” Reynolds said of Junior Achievement.
The experiences are great resume builders for her students, Reynolds said, but they also help them to experience new things — such as speaking in front of a crowd.
Logan Lutz, 17, a senior, has participated in the Junior Achievement Titan Challenge for three years under Reynolds' guidance, gone on job shadows and had the opportunity to conquer one of his biggest fears — public speaking.
Last year, Lutz spoke at a dinner for Junior Achievement in front of 50 company officials or organization leaders. Then, in recent months, he spoke at the JA's annual Spirit of Enterprise gala dinner in front of nearly 400 people.
He noticed a difference between the first and second speeches. “I felt more assured of myself,” Lutz said.
Dipesh Timsine, 16, a junior and native of Nepal who hopes to become a theoretical physicist, also has been inspired by Reynolds.
“She has been a big part of my school life,” he said. “She helped me get involved more in education and programs.”
Through Junior Achievement, Timsine, too, has had the opportunity to speak in public and meet and interview business owners across the region, like Chester R. Babst III, a managing shareholder for Babst Calland, who received the Junior Achievement Fred Rogers Good Neighbor Award at the Spirit of Enterprise gala, he said. He then presented him at the ceremony.
“Junior Achievement has gotten me involved with so many people,” said Timsine, who also participates in an after-school program sponsored by the organization for junior and senior high school student refugees, where they learn about selecting colleges and summer job opportunities.
Likewise, Nigel Armbruster, 17, a Baldwin High School senior, has seen the benefits of Junior Achievement.
Reynolds has been an “unbelievable” part of Armbruster's high school life, he said.
“She organizes absolutely everything. Anything can be made possible through Mrs. Reynolds,” he said.
Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or email@example.com.